Even private schools must mask up after Pritzker flip-flop

Even private schools must mask up after Pritzker flip-flop

Gov. J.B. Pritzker promised to respect local school boards and private school autonomy, until too few were doing what he wanted. So he reversed himself, mandating masks for both private and public Illinois schools.

Nearly 17,000 Illinoisans told the General Assembly in May they opposed a proposal that would have given the state more authority over private schools, and lawmakers listened.

Then Gov. J.B Pritzker essentially backed those parents when he said masks and other COVID-19 protocol should be a local decision, left to local school leaders being advised by local health departments.

“Families should be involved in making decisions for their own families. And, school districts and school boards will make decisions for the schools within their districts,” Pritzker said July 17.

But that was before so many school districts were exercising their freedom to choose and making what Pritzker considered to be the wrong decision.

“Far too few school districts have chosen to follow the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prescription for keeping students and staff safe,” Pritzker said during a press conference Aug. 4. “Given the CDC’s strong recommendation, I had hoped that a state mask requirement in schools wouldn’t be necessary, but it is.”

So when Illinois students return to school in a few weeks, they will be wearing masks, by order of the governor. His statewide mask mandate covers all students, staff and visitors in both private and public schools, regardless of vaccination status.

Pritzker said his new restrictions fall in line with updated guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released July 27. The difference is the CDC “recommends” while Pritzker “mandates.”

Many parents argue their children’s health is their responsibility, and some educators and experts question the developmental and emotional impacts from masking young students.

Pritzker’s top-down approach to governing Illinois has been the subject of criticism by state lawmakers throughout the pandemic. They claim the governor’s use of emergency powers, through 19 emergency declarations, has allowed him to sidestep input from elected representatives.

Illinois Senate Republicans introduced Senate Bill 103 in March that would have limited Pritzker ability to reissue his own emergency powers. They claimed it would give the General Assembly more of a voice during times of crisis.

“I thought that it was important for other voices, other elected officials from an equal branch of government, to be able to have the input necessary in order to help make sure we were responding as best as we possibly could,” said Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, R-Lake Zurich, who introduced the legislation.

“At the end of the day, if they really do believe that they are in this job to reflect their constituents, then they should embrace this.”

Rather than return power to the elected officials Illinoisans chose to represent them, the majority of lawmakers ignored the bill and allowed Pritzker to continue governing the state by mandate.

When Pritzker’s most recent disaster declaration expires Aug. 21, he will have ruled by executive order for 529 consecutive days. He used that time to give 83 executive orders the force of state law.

Pritzker saying one thing, then doing another is familiar. He repeatedly told voters he opposedpartisan gerrymandering and would never approve politically drawn maps, then decided it was OK and signed them into law for the next decade.

Saying those elected to lead local schools should be trusted to make decisions for local kids, then a few weeks later imposing his will across the state is another example of what a Pritzker promise is worth.

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