Illinois Governor to End Mask Mandate for Schools Next Week

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.—Illinois will end its mask mandate for schools starting next week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Friday night.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is no longer urging people to wear masks in most indoor settings, including schools, where COVID-19 poses a “low” or “medium” risk to the general public and the local health care system. That covers more than three-quarters of Illinois counties currently.

Pritzker announced on Twitter that he would lift the state mandate effective Monday.

An Illinois Supreme Court order issued late Friday found that a Springfield judge’s Feb. 4 order preventing statewide enforcement of the mask mandate should be vacated because a lower appellate court recently found the case to be moot.

Pritzker had appealed a temporary restraining order issued by Sangamon County Circuit judge Raylene Grischow against scores of Illinois school districts, but the appellate court dismissed the appeal. The court found that because rules from the Illinois Department of Health requiring masking and other COVID-19 protocols had been allowed to expire, the appeal was moot. The governor then appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.

It wasn’t clear whether schools could still impose their own mask mandates, but Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudeyyah said last week at the time of the appeal that Pritzker “is encouraged that the court made it clear that school districts can continue to keep their own mitigations in place.”

The legal drama over masks in public schools has unfolded even as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations have plunged after the omicron variant’s peak last month. Last week, Pritzker announced he would lift the statewide indoor mask mandate on Feb. 28—but not for schools.

The appellate court weighed in about two weeks after Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow issued a temporary restraining order invalidating the school mask mandate, as well as several other emergency orders, including vaccine requirements for school employees. Pritzker implemented the vaccine mandate at the beginning of the school year.

Grischow agreed with teachers and students who had sued, arguing that schools couldn’t be ordered to require masking without a public health quarantine order. She also said people can’t be excluded from school who have had contact with the virus without a hearing.

Before the appellate court could review Grischow’s opinion, the emergency rules expired. The Illinois Department of Public Health sought to extend them last week, but the bicameral, bipartisan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules declined. The unanimous vote indicated a spreading desire among lawmakers for more involvement in managing the pandemic.