(The Center Square) – After 26 Illinois schools have been put on probation for failing to follow a mask mandate, some are challenging the legality of the enforcement actions the state has taken to get more than 850 locally-elected school boards to comply.
On Aug. 4, Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order mandating masks be worn by all students and staff in schools, regardless of vaccinations status.
State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala addressed the matter during Wednesday’s Illinois State Board of Education meeting in Springfield, which included protesters outside holding signs condemning the mask mandate.
“Masking works,” Ayala said. “It’s simple, easy and effective and it works best when everyone in the school building wears a mask.”
Ayala has issued a warning to school districts, saying, “The executive order has the force of law. I understand the pressure some school and district leaders may be facing from community members, and I will provide you with every support to understand, communicate and comply with the order.”
ISBE stated schools that fail to address deficiencies and submit a corrective plan would lead to nonrecognition, meaning a total loss of access to state funding and loss of the school’s ability to engage in any state-sanctioned athletic competitions.
State Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, who has schools in his district that have been put on probation, attended the board meeting and had a question for Ayala.
“With one private district, you went so far as to unilaterally revoke recognition,” Wilhour said. “Where do you get this authority?”
Facing pressure from parents and staff in their communities over the mask mandate, school boards around the state are consulting legal advisors about the liability and other legal obstacles they could face if they defy the order.
State Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Louisville, who is running for governor, told the board that Pritzker does not have the authority to force schools to require masks.
“This debate is not about whether you think masks should be worn,” Bailey said. “This debate is about whether or not we will uphold the rule of law.”
Attorney Thomas DeVore is suing Pritzker, claiming the governor doesn’t have the authority to tell local school districts how to run or enforce the mask requirement. He says he is also preparing a lawsuit questioning if ISBE has the authority to enforce the mask requirement.