Hononegah will continue to require masks, pending judge's ruling
UPDATE: After Judge Grischow issued a ruling and a temporary restraining order on Friday afternoon, Feb. 4, 2022, Hononegah Superintendent Michael Dugan announced that masks were no longer required but strongly recommended.
Local school districts and parents are preparing for a ruling in a class action lawsuit that could change or stop mask mandates in Illinois, or else not change anything at all. Prairie Hill and Hononegah are two of the 145 school districts that are specifically named as defendants in the lawsuit. Plaintiffs are asking for a temporary restraining order against Governor Pritziker's executive order, which requires masks in schools.
Until the governor issued his executive order on Aug. 26, 2021, the Hononegah school board had planned to make masks optional. But they decided to follow the executive order. In response to the lawsuit, Hononegah superintendent Michael J. Dugan sent a email to parents on Jan. 25:
At this time, Hononegah will continue to operate as we have been under the Executive Orders and emergency rules (e.g., requiring masking, following exclusion protocols, testing weekly for those staff who have not submitted evidence of vaccination). We anticipate that the judge will make one of the following determinations regarding facemasks:
1. Make facemasks optional for the students that were involved in the lawsuit.
2. Make facemasks optional for the school districts that were involved in the lawsuit.
3. Make facemasks optional statewide regardless of who was involved in the lawsuit.
4. Allow school districts to locally determine if facemasks are required.
5. Deny the TRO [temporary restraining order] and the class certification leaving the terms of the Executive Order in place.
Additionally, after the judgment, it is likely that the losing side will appeal the decision. A decision by the appellate court would be made within ten days after the judge’s decision. The appellate court could uphold or reverse this court’s decision. At this time, there is no clear answer as to what direction the judge will go, and most media coverage is very speculative.
More about masks at Hononegah:
Zach and Tara Meiborg, whose children attend Prairie Hill and Hononegah, are some of the parents represented by Greenville attorney Thomas DeVore in the lawsuit. Like DeVore, the Meiborgs argue that, unless a public health department has issued a quarantine order, schools have no legal authority to require vaccinations or the wearing of masks.
Tara Meiborg gave us her thoughts about Superintendent Dugan's email:
While I wish Mr. Dugan and the Hono board would have fought for our children and their guardians to have the right to choose after the governor usurped their back-to-school plan with his EO [executive order], I respect them for remaining neutral and not working to circumvent, thwart, or otherwise deter in-person learning for children regardless of the outcome. Mr. Dugan assured us that he would honor the decision of the court, and with this neutral and informative press release, has been a man of his word.
Hononegah and other school districts are represented in the lawsuit by attorney Luke Feeney. At University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, Feeney studied international resource and consumer economics and later earned his law degree there. His firm Miller, Tracy, Braun, Funk & Miller, Ltd. specializes in representing Illinois public schools and universities.
DeVore has unsuccessfully challenged the state’s COVID-19 mitigation measures in several other lawsuits. In September, DeVore filed a motion for a temporary restraining order to permit students to continue in-person learning in school. His Facebook page applauds school districts who are making masks optional before the judge has issued her ruling.
Devore told the Bellville News-Democrat he is a "small town farm boy." He lives on a farm near Sorento, Illinois, in Bond County. Trained as an accountant, he entered law school when he was 39 years old. He is also running for a seat on the 5th Appellate District Court.