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Peoria Regional Superintendent sees uncertainty amid the legal battle over masks in schools

Elementary school students in face masks board the school bus after in-person classes in Wheeling, Ill., Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. Several Illinois schools will go to virtual remote learning after Thanksgiving weekend as COVID-19 cases soar. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Nam Y. Huh
A spokesperson from the Governor's office said they continue to urge everyone to continue masking in classrooms.

As Gov. JB Pritzker's administration plans to take its bid to reimpose the school mask mandate to the state Supreme Court, Peoria Regional Superintendent Beth Crider believes the ongoing legal wrangling creates more uncertainty for school districts.

Late Thursday the 4th District Appellate Court declined to stay a Sangamon County judge's Feb. 4th temporary restraining order blocking Pritzker’s COVID-19 mitigations for schools. The court cited a state legislative panel's decision to decline extending the Illinois Department of Public Health's enforcement of the emergency rules.

Crider said Pritzker’s decision has school administrators contemplating how to proceed.

“What it means for Peoria-area schools is that we are still looking at a variety of different informational sources, from the IDPH (Illinois Department of Public Health), to our local health department, to the state board of education and our local legal firms to advise us,” she said.

“But what it comes down to is, this ruling from the appellate court didn't say that you are required to wear masks, but it also says that it doesn't mean your district can't require it. So a local school district with their locally elected school board has the ability to make that decision for themselves, based on their local vaccine rates and how many positive cases that they have.”

Crider said about half of the school districts in Peoria County have opted to make masks optional, and she anticipates more will follow. Peoria Public Schools is one of the districts that has kept its mask requirement.

A spokesperson from the governor's office said they continue to urge everyone to continue masking in classrooms.

Crider said if the Supreme Court decides in Pritzker’s favor, it could potentially cause problems for districts that would need to return to a mask requirement.

“That will be a very interesting position for us all to be in, because if the executive order should be successful at that level and we are asked to put masks back on, that will certainly be a challenge,” she said.

“One of the reasons it's so challenging, is that we were on the way to looking at what it would be like post-pandemic. Our numbers were looking better, our vaccination rates were up, we had low ICU bed usage, and our hospital information was looking better. So we were on the road to reducing mitigations, and now it's all been confused by all of these lawsuits.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.