Motions to dismiss challenges to COVID-19 school mandates under advisement

(The Center Square) – As schools prepare to start a new year, whether the case challenging broad COVID-19 mandates on schools is dismissed is still up in the air.

Earlier this year, Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow issued a temporary restraining order against school districts implementing Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s mask and exclusion mandates. A legislative body then suspended the emergency rules. On appeal, the order was vacated and kicked back to the lower court. That was the same day the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention modified guidance, which Pritzker said gave him the ability to lift the mandates.

In June, the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois State Board of Education issued updated guidance with various recommendations.

“IDPH and ISBE strongly encourage schools to follow the CDC’s operational guidance on best practices and the recommendations of their local health department on quarantine and isolation for confirmed and probable cases and close contacts,” the guidance said.

Wednesday, in Sangamon County court, attorney Patrick Walsh, who was granted a motion to intervene in the case with additional clients, argued against broad mitigations violating due process rights.

“Sweeping violations of due process unfortunately for this courtroom creates sweeping litigation,” Walsh said.

Darren Kinkead, with the Illinois attorney general’s office, compared new guidance with recommendations to not eat undercooked meat.

“No one actually is compelled to follow it,” Kinkead said. “It is purely advisory. So again, whether the school districts implement it or not, that’s up to them.”

Pritzker’s mandates last year led to several districts not in compliance facing their status being revoked, which could have led to state funding being withheld. Several districts were put on probation before the mandates were lifted.

Melanie Renken, who represents several schools, said there are no mandates, but schools should be allowed to mitigate.

“This is basically nonsense,” Renken said. “The school will observe recommendations of the IDPH regarding communicable diseases. If that’s what we’re saying is unlawful, we’re going to have a whole lot of lawsuits coming down the pike.”

Representing parents across the state, attorney Thomas DeVore, who is also the Republican candidate for Illinois attorney general, argued against dismissal.

“The case is gone, school districts start doing all kinds of stuff,” DeVore said. “Are they going to adopt the CDC-slash-IDPH guidance in some fashion? Are they going to do some hybrid of that, etcetera.”

A different case about school COVID-19 vaccine and testing mandates on staff was also heard and has been taken under advisement.