D65 to continue mask policy despite Illinois judge halting statewide mask mandate


Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer

A cloth mask, a surgical mask and an N95 mask side by side. District 65 will continue to require masks be worn in schools.

Laura Simmons, Reporter

After an Illinois judge halted the state’s mask mandate on Friday, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Superintendent Devon Horton said the district plans to continue current COVID-19 mitigation efforts. 

Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow issued a restraining order Friday on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s statewide mask mandate in public school buildings. Some Illinois school districts provided exemptions to students whose parents were against mask mandates while other districts instated mask optional policies, Horton said at a Monday school board meeting. He added District 65 will continue following their current health mitigations, which include masking, mandated vaccines for staff and social distancing.

“Fortunately for us, some of the decisions that we were making, we were two or three days ahead of the executive order, which kind of gives us some advantages because we were making these calls based on what we felt was best and not necessarily due to executive orders,” Horton said. 

The governor’s office filed an appeal to the restraining order that same Friday.

The statement said the consequence of this 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 may force schools to go remote.

School board member Sergio Hernandez said both those who are for and against the mask mandates want children to be safe. However, he said those pushing for anti-vaccine and anti-mask policies are neglecting COVID-19’s impact on students and faculty who are immunocompromised.  

Hernandez added that the pandemic disproportionately harms Black and brown communities and other marginalized groups. Meanwhile, he said those pushing against vaccine and mask mandates typically come from privileged communities with access to high-quality health services. 

The Illinois attorney general appealed Grischow’s ruling early Monday. 

“There’s a date of Feb. 17 where a court decision should be made and we’ll know more about if there’s some heavier impact for us,” Horton said. 

The number of District 65 students in quarantine peaked at 838 students on Dec. 23, 2021. After returning from break on Jan. 14, the number of quarantined students in quarantine dropped to 335. Since then, the numbers have been steadily declining, with the most recent up-to-date report from Feb. 1 reporting 45 students in quarantine. 

“I’m glad that as a district we’re standing strong with our mitigation efforts,” Hernandez said. “It’s made an incredible difference.”

School board members also discussed school diversity and equity issues at the Monday meeting. Sarita Smith, District 65 manager of student assignments, presented community feedback from a recent virtual presentation that more than 300 residents attended. 

In some areas, Smith said it’s not possible to have both diverse and walkable neighborhood schools. 

“Overwhelmingly, people are like, ‘We get it,’” Smith said. “We know we don’t live in diverse neighborhoods and kids should be able to walk to school.”

Diversity in neighborhood schools can increase by including transfer programs and magnet schools, Smith said. The Student Assignment Project will continue to solicit feedback on new curriculum initiatives, magnet schools, and school boundaries, and it plans to present a set of recommendations to the public in March. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @LauraSi01351418

Related Stories:

District 65 Curriculum and Policy Committee discusses COVID, provides accelerated learning updates

District 65 Personnel, Building and Grounds and Finance Committee hears facilities updates

D65 and D202 joint committee calls for stronger literacy goals