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More Peoria-area schools dropping mask mandates after legislative panel declines to extend emergency rules

A silk face mask made by Etsy shop MilleSaisons. The mask is a bestseller on the Etsy e-commerce website.
A silk face mask made by Etsy shop MilleSaisons. The mask is a bestseller on the Etsy e-commerce website.

A state legislative panel's suspension of school COVID-19 mitigations on Tuesday is leading more Central Illinois school districts to adopt mask-optional policies.

Schools covered by a Feb. 4 temporary restraining order issued by Sangamon County circuit judge Raylene Grischow had already adopted mask-optional policies for students and staff. That includes districts like Dunlap, Morton, and Limestone.

Other school districts in East Peoria, Elmwood, South Pekin, Deer Creek-Mackinaw, Farmington, and Princeville weren't included in that TRO, but their school boards voted to adopt mask-optional policies anyway after the judge's ruling was interpreted by some as invalidating the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education's authority to continue imposing the emergency COVID-19 rules.

The governor's administration is appealing the ruling. But following Tuesday's bipartisan ruling by the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules, enforcement of the school mask mandate implemented by the governor is nullified.

The ongoing appeal was cited by JCAR members in the decision not to renew the emergency rules.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Gov. JB Pritkzer said they continue to encourage mask-wearing to keep students and communities safe.

"The administration understands that members of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules are awaiting a ruling from the appellate court on this issue," said the spokesperson. "As doctors have said time and again, masks are the best way to preserve in-person learning and keep children and staff safe. We look forward to continuing to work with members of the General Assembly, school districts, parents, communities and all stakeholders to use the tools we have to keep in-person learning."

Pekin District 108, Pekin District 303, and North Pekin Marquette Heights District School District 102 were among the districts to shift to mask-optional policies following the JCAR decision.

Masking still remains mandatory on school buses, per federal rules.

A Peoria Public Schools spokesperson said JCAR's decision Tuesday won't affect their policies. The school board implemented masking as part of the return-to-school plan adopted last summer.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.