Judge limits mask mandate at Hononegah, at least temporarily


Hononegah school board members Bob Geddeis, Katie Littlefield and David Kurlinkus discussed the Governor's mask mandate with concerned citizens at an outdoor meeting on Nov. 16, 2021

UPDATE (02/06/2022): Hononegah's superintendent has now told parents and staff that "universal masking is highly recommended for all students but is not required within the building."

A previous version of this story said that the judge's temporary restraining order against the mask mandate will apply to all students and staff in the Hononegah and Prairie Hill school districts. Other media outlets and school districts have interpreted the ruling in the same way. Attorney Thomas DeVore, who argued the case against the schools, says the order only applies to the named plaintiffs - the families who are his clients - which in the Stateline area includes only the members of the Meiborg family. However, since the judge has declared the Emergency Rules which have justified these mandates "null and void," she says "Any non-named Plaintiffs and School Districts throughout this State may govern themselves accordingly." School districts throughout Illinois have taken different interpretations of the ruling, some ending their mask mandates and some continuing them.

Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene W. Grischow has issued a ruling in a lawsuit in which Hononegah Community School District and Prairie Hill School District are among the 145 school districts named as defendants. The plaintiffs include members of the Meiborg family in the Stateline area, plus other families throughout Illinois.

The judge issued a temporary restraining order preventing the school districts from applying mask mandates, as well as vaccination and testing requirements, to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The schools are not allowed to require them to wear masks inside their buildings "if they object." And the local plaintiffs do object.

The order also prohibits the school districts from excluding the plaintiffs from their buildings if they are a "'close contact' of a confirmed probable COVID-19 case," or from requiring staff to either be vaccinated or have a negative COVID test.  State and school officials says these requirements were attempts to implement Gov. J.B. Pritzker's orders. 

Judge Grischow's temporary restraining order applies only to the named plaintiffs in the 145 school districts that are named in the lawsuit. She declined to apply it statewide, saying that would be premature. However, it seems to apply to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, restraining him from ordering school districts to follow these requirements , something he did in the executive order on Aug. 26, 2021.

Furthermore, Judge Grischow addressed the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Illinois State Board of Education, both of which changed rules on September 17, 2021 to accommodate the Governor's order. The judge said these rule changes are "deemed null and void," and that "Any non-named Plaintiffs and School Districts throughout this State may govern themselves accordingly," even though she had not applied her temporary restraining order to them.

Meanwhile, before the ruling on Friday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said, "I believe that we should remove masks as soon as we possibly can... I'm constantly listening to the doctors and scientists and encouraging them, 'when can we do this, what's the right time, what's the right way to do it.' And so, very hopeful we can make an announcement about that."  

After the ruling, however, he issued a statement: “The grave consequence of this misguided decision is that schools in these districts no longer have sufficient tools to keep students and staff safe while COVID-19 continues to threaten our communities – and this may force schools to go remote... This shows yet again that the mask mandate and school exclusion protocols are essential tools to keep schools open and everyone safe. As we have from the beginning of the pandemic, the administration will keep working to ensure every Illinoisan has the tools needed to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.”

Hononegah's own rules were generally more relaxed than the Governor's. In July 28, WIFR reported that masks would be required at Hononegah. But in their Return to School Plan, the Hononegah school board would have required universal masking only at the start of the school year, and added, "After 20 days if local metrics are favorable, mask choice will become an option." Then, the district said, "On August 4th, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced masks will be required for students, teachers and staff at pre-kindergarten-12th grade schools until further notice." After that, the wording of the Return to School plan changed from "should" to "must": "Masks should must be worn indoors by all individuals regardless of vaccination status." References to "20 days" were eliminated. Finally, Gov. Pritzker issued his statewide mask mandate on Aug. 26, 2021, which required masking in all public places. It is frequently ignored in many public places.

More about masks at Hononegah:

Schools in Roscoe and Rockton handle judge's mask ruling in very different ways

Hononegah: Masks highly recommended but no longer required

Judge reconsiders mask mandates, including Hononegah and Prairie Hill

Hononegah will continue to require masks, pending judge's ruling

Parents voice opinions on wearing of masks at Hononegah Community High School Board meeting

Hononegah begins school year, all together, three feet apart

Judge Grischow's opinion (attached below) frequently uses the terms "lawful," "due process" and "quarantine." She believes that the Governor's executive order overstepped legal bounds by invoking rules that should apply only under "lawful order of quarantine" by a local health department. Her ruling did not say that masks or vaccines are bad, only that the mandate violates state laws requiring due process. She says that state law has delegated emergency health decisions to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and local health departments, not to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) or local school boards. Her ruling says, "The Governor cannot make public health decisions during a time of emergency independently and without coordinating with IDPH."

Her ruling says, "It is worth noting the Plaintiffs do not seek any order of this Court dismantling masking, vaccination or testing policies in their totality, only that due process under the law be afforded to them should they choose to object to [masks and vaccination requirements]." That is, school officials can still tell people to put on masks before entering the building, but they can't require it without going through due process. 

Greenville attorney Thomas DeVore, who argued the case, says that existing laws already allowed masking, vaccination and testing. For example, if a teacher with typhoid fever insisted on coming to school, the local health department could seek an 48-hour emergency quarantine against the individual, pending a judge's decision.

Attorney General Kwame Raoul said that he will appeal the decision in the Illinois Appellate Court for the 4th District. The Appellate Court must give their final answer by Feb. 17, 2022.

Raoul said the judge's ruling "prioritizes a relatively small group of plaintiffs who refuse to follow widely-accepted science over the rights of other students, faculty and staff to enter schools without the fear of contracting a virus that has claimed the lives of more than 31,000 Illinois residents – or taking that virus home to their loved ones.”

Judge Grischow said this was only a temporary order until a more detailed trial could be held. Her order concludes:


1) The IDPH Emergency Rules enacted on September 17, 2021 changing sections 690.10 (Definitions); 690.361(d) (Schools), 690.1380 (Physical Examination; Testing and Collection of Laboratory Specimens), and 690.1385 (Vaccinations, Medications, or Other Treatments) of Title 77 of the Illinois Administrative Code is deemed null and void;39

2) ISBE Emergency Rule enacted on September 17, 2021, Part 6, Mandatory Vaccinations for School Personnel is deemed null and void; 40

3) Defendants are temporarily restrained from: 

a. Enforcement of EO18, EO24, EO25 as they pertain to the issue before the Court and the Emergency Rules issued by the IDPH and ISBE; 

b. Ordering school districts require the use of masks for students and teachers who occupy their buildings, if they object, except during the terms of lawful order of quarantine issued from their respective health department, in accordance with the IDPH Act; 

c. Ordering school districts to require persons who are both unvaccinated and work in Illinois schools to provide weekly negative results of an approved COVID-19 test or be vaccinated if they object in order to occupy the school building without first providing them due process of law; and 

d. Ordering school districts to refuse admittance to their buildings for teachers and students for specified periods of time if the teacher or student is deemed a “close contact” of a confirmed probable COVID-19 case without providing due process to that individual if they object, unless the local health department has deemed the individual a close contact after following the procedures outlined in 20 ILCS 2305 and 77 Ill. Adm. Code 690.1330. 

4) This temporary restraining order shall remain in full force and effect pending trial on the merits unless sooner modified or dissolved.

39 Although this Court denied Plaintiffs' request for Class Certification in Case No: 2021-CH-500002, this Court has declared IDPH's Emergency Rules void. Any non-named Plaintiffs and School Districts throughout this State may govern themselves accordingly. 

40Although this Court denied Plaintiffs' request for Class Certification in Case No: 2021-CH-500007, this Court has declared IDPH and ISBE's Emergency Rules void. Thus, non-named Plaintiffs and School Districts throughout this State may govern themselves accordingly. 

Case Numbers: 2021-CH-500002, 2 I-CH-500003, 21-CH-500005 & 21-CH-500007 

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