Downstate lawsuit targets mask mandate

A Sangamon County Circuit judge is set to deliver her ruling on a temporary restraining order targeting a statewide mask mandate in schools as early as Friday. District 203 is among more than 140 Illinois school districts being sued. 

School districts across the state have expressed concerns that the restraining order, if granted in full, could cause school closures because districts would lose one of their primary coronavirus mitigation tools. Alex Mayster, Executive Director of Communications for District 203, said that the district is preparing for whatever outcome may arise. 

“We don’t have answers to the thousands of hypothetical situations that may arise. I’ll just say that we’re discussing it and we’ll be prepared to react to it when the time comes,” Mayster said. 

The lawsuit by 700 parents across the state said mask and quarantining mandates from Gov. J.B. Pritzker illegally limited their students’ right to public education. At the end of a hearing Thursday, Judge Raylene Grischow said her ruling would be emailed out no earlier than Jan. 28. 

When Grischow’s order is finalized, there is a potential for a few different outcomes for schools across Illinois. The judge could deny the request for a temporary restraining order, grant it, or grant it in part. The state, as well as local school districts, would likely appeal the restraining order, if granted, to a higher court.   

“[Attorney] Tom Devore and his plaintiffs’ push to no longer require masks in schools could shut our schools down,” Kathi Griffin, the president of the Illinois Education Association, said in a statement. “Removing any of these protections would be detrimental to our student and staff safety and will almost certainly force schools across the state to close because of a staffing shortage.”

In December of 2020, Judge Grischow threw out a case similar to this one, stating that the governor of Illinois has the right to issue various “successive disaster proclamations stemming from one ongoing disaster,” such as mask-wearing and quarantine and isolation guidelines. 

Rumors circulating on social media and among students say that if the mask mandate is not in effect in school, District 203 will move to online learning. The district has not announced such a possibility. 

The circulation of these rumors presents a distraction at school, according to junior Joanna Cho.

“[The rumors] are kind of just getting in the way of school life,” Cho said.

Despite all of the information that people are spreading, though, many students don’t fully understand the situation. 

“I don’t know a lot about the lawsuit right now. I’m still kind of confused,” junior Nithya Rachapalli said.

Some students believe that increased communication from the school and district level would be helpful in students’ understanding of the situation, and would prevent rumors from becoming distractions. 

“The communication is not that great,” Rachapalli said. “People are getting caught up in the details and it’s misleading.”