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Court dismisses Pritzker’s appeal to keep school mask mandate in place

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — An Illinois appeals court has dismissed an appeal of a judge’s ruling that invalidated Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s requirement that masks be worn in schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The ruling late Thursday comes about two weeks after a central Illinois judge invalidated the mask mandate and a week after the Democratic governor lifted the requirement that face coverings be worn in most indoor spaces — but not for schools — as the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations plummet.

Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow on Feb. 4 rendered the order “null and void.” She agreed with students and teachers from more than 150 school districts that no one could be excluded from school for health reasons without family consent or a public health order.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul appealed the ruling Feb. 7, seeking a temporary restraining order. He argued enforcing Grischow’s ruling could mean “widespread transmission” of the coronavirus “within schools and in the broader community, increased hospitalizations and deaths, and school staff shortages” leading to a return to remote learning or even school closures.

Pritzker argued the ruling only applied to the school districts named in the lawsuits. He counseled any district not covered by Grischow’s order to continue requiring masks for students and staff.

The judge’s decree also invalidated other Pritzker orders, including required vaccinations for school employees.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker addresses media July 16, 2020, at City Market Pavilion in Rockford as a masked Mayor Tom McNamara looks on. JIM HAGERTY/TRRT

The appellate court sought additional information this week after a legislative oversight commission weighed in against school masks. Pritzker implemented emergency rules for masks in schools on Sept. 17.

When the Illinois Department of Public Health sought to reinstate them this week, they needed an OK from the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, a bipartisan, bicameral panel of legislators. Seeking more involvement from the Legislature, the committee voted unanimously against adoption.

The appeals ruled that Pritzker’s order was moot because of the committee decision.
“The existence of an actual controversy is a prerequisite for appellate jurisdiction, and a reviewing court will generally not decide matters that are abstract, hypothetical, or moot,” the appeals court ruled.

The drama plays out before a landscape of declining COVID-19 danger a month after illness from the highly contagious omicron variant peaked. New cases and hospitalizations have fallen so far that Pritzker declared on Feb. 9 that the requirement for face coverings at most indoor locations would be lifted on Feb. 28.

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