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


Rockton School District says it's still subject to the Governor's mask mandate.

When Judge Grischow announced her decision on 4:45 p.m. on Friday, her 29-page ruling didn't settle the questions about masking in school. For one thing, what she issued was only a temporary restraining order, expecting a final decision later. For another, Illinois school districts have been frustrated as they try to interpret what her order really means.

So while some schools are relaxing their mask rules, others are insisting on following them. Both groups say they are obeying Judge Grischow's order.

Since Hononegah and Prairie Hill were specifically named as defendants in the lawsuit, the ruling applies specifically to them, along with the 145 other Illinois districts who were named in the lawsuit. So on advice of their attorney, Hononegah and Prairie Hill are no longer requiring masks in their buildings. One 9th grade student said that "about half" the students were wearing masks anyway - "It's weird," he said.

In other districts not named in the lawsuit, attorneys have advised that the ruling doesn't apply to their district, so they are still obligated to follow the Governor's mandate. In a separate ruling,  Judge Grischow declined to give the case "class certification" to apply her temporary restraining order statewide. And the mask requirement on busses is a federal rule, not subject to the state court.

For example, Rockton School District and Kinnikinnick School District, who were not defendants in the suit, say they are still requiring masks in their buildings. Staff must either be fully-vaccinated or be tested weekly. And students and staff who are considered “close contacts” are excluded from school buildings, in coordination with the Winnebago County Health Department.

Kinnikinnick School District told parents on Sunday night, "The Kinnikinnick CCSD #131 was not a party to this lawsuit, and the judge’s order does not expressly apply to the District.... At this time the Kinnikinnick District will continue to follow the State’s COVID-19 mandates."

Glenn Terry, superintendent of the Rockton School Districttold parents in a Sunday email that "after much reading and consultation, it is my understanding that the TRO [temporary restraining order] does not affect Rockton. The governor's executive orders still apply to us and therefore masks are still mandatory tomorrow." 

Like Hononegah, the Rockton board of education had approved a district opening plan, prior to the governor's mandate, that would have called for "masks becoming optional once certain metrics were met."

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

On the other hand, the Belvidere Community Unit School District #100 and other districts were named as defendants in the lawsuit, just like Hononegah and Prairie Hill. But unlike Hononegah, they interpret the ruling as applying only to the families named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Dr. Daniel Woestman, Belvidere's superintendent, told parents in an email that since "the judge denied the class certification for the lawsuit... this means that the outcome of the case does not apply to all students in the school district... any decisions will only apply to people named in the lawsuit."

So Dr. Woestman says, "Masks will continue to be required in all schools, and on school buses we will continue to follow close contact exclusion protocols." He notes that "people who were named the lawsuit are not required to wear masks in schools and are not required to quarantine if considered a close contact, unless they receive an order from the health department."

However, Woestman goes on to say that "if any of the people named in the lawsuit test positive, they will still be required to stay home. If any of the people named in the lawsuit exhibit symptoms, they will still be required to stay home. If any of the people named in the lawsuit use school transportation they will still be required to wear a mask on the bus."

Ironically, attorney Thomas DeVore, who argued the case against the school districts, would tend to agree with Woestman's interpretation. He says that the temporary restraining 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. So according to DeVore, if Hononegah required members of that family to wear masks, they would be in contempt of court. Requiring other students to wear masks, in DeVore's opinion, would merely be ill-advised, since the basis for Hononegah's mask requirements was state rule changes which Judge Grischow deems "null and void."

Many school districts seem to have latched onto what Judge Grischow said next: "Any non-named Plaintiffs and School Districts throughout this State may govern themselves accordingly," even though she denied the class certification that would have applied her ruling statewide. Both the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), changed their rules on September 17, 2021 to accommodate the Governor's mandate, and those rule changes are what Judge Grischow has deemed null and void.

Rockford Public Schools, which was not a defendant in the case, is reluctantly relaxing its mask requirements. Morgan Gallagher, Chief of Schools, said in an email, "While the ruling narrowly applies to the plaintiffs that brought forth the case, there will be repercussions that affect RPS 205... We will not discipline students that refuse to wear masks. Nor will we engage students or parents in any adversarial dialogue on the topic."

Also no longer requiring masks: Harlem School DistrictDiocese of Rockford, Morrison Community Unit School District #6, and Central A&M, which like Hononegah was named in the lawsuit).

Other districts named in the lawsuit will not relax their COVID policies. At School District U-46 in Elgin, Superintendent Tony Sanders argues the judge's ruling says that Gov. Pritzker can't set school regulations, not that school districts can't. Also, since the judge acknowledged that districts must abide by any collective bargaining agreements, one of U-46's agreements is “No bargaining unit member shall be required to work under unsafe or hazardous conditions which pose an immediate threat to her/ his health or safety.” Downers Grove District 99's reasoning is that their school board required masks before the Governor issued his executive order. District 26 in Cary and District 28 say the same, and will require masks for all their students not named in the lawsuit.

Algonquin's District 300's website says, "Late Friday afternoon, Judge Raylene Grischow issued a temporary restraining order in this pending litigation. Due to a separate ruling limiting the scope of the litigation, the order applies only to the parties to the lawsuit of which there are nineteen District 300 students named. The temporary restraining order will be appealed and may be stayed, meaning that the order could be placed on hold while the appeal is decided. As a result, the legal effect of the temporary restraining order is uncertain over the next couple of weeks. The District anticipates that the appellate ruling will provide additional clarification and guidance on how to move forward with mitigation measures. We anticipate a final ruling from the appellate court by February 17, 2022."

About half the students at Hononegah Community High School were wearing masks on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022, the first day that wearing them was optional.
The "Mask Required" signs were still posted at the school door, but they were no longer enforced.
The Illinois State Attorney General is appealing the decision against the school districts, with a result expected by February 17, 2022.
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