SPRINGFIELD – Today, the unions representing teachers and support staff in 52 school districts across Illinois will file a motion to intervene in a Sangamon County lawsuit in an effort to protect the safety of the workplaces and the health and lives of students and employees by keeping the governor’s student mask mandate in place.
In October, attorney Tom DeVore filed a lawsuit against 145 school districts across the state on behalf of parents and their children at a price of $5,000 per district, plus filing fees. Those cases have all been consolidated into one in Sangamon County in front of Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow.
The suit asks that the students not be required to wear a mask or be excluded from campus, and that students not be excluded from campus if they were “close contacts” with a COVID positive person, without the local health department weighing in on each individual case.
The court filings today were made on behalf of 75 IEA-affiliated locals, which represent more than 29,000 members of the Illinois Education Association who serve more than 214,000 students. Each of those locals made the independent decision to intervene in the lawsuit.
“Almost all of our members are vaccinated or complying with the vaccinate-or-test order. We are all wearing masks. We want students to wear their masks and stay home if they were close contacts of someone with COVID. We believe in keeping staff, students, all of the families of our staff and students and all of our communities safe,” said Andrew Frey, president of the Triad Education Association. “Things were looking good for a while, but here we are again. This is a worldwide pandemic. We are not immune in Illinois just because we want to turn our heads. So, we won’t. And, we’ll work to keep our schools safe.”
A status hearing is set in the case for next week. Should the judge grant the IEA locals’ motion, they would be able to take part in that hearing and in court proceedings going forward.
“We have been saying all along that it is our goal to keep students and staff in buildings as long as it is safe,” said Kathi Griffin, president of the IEA. “Our locals are respectfully asking the court to respect the educators’ wishes who have asked their local to intervene on their behalf, to ensure that we can continue in-person instruction in a safe and healthy environment. We believe the governor has worked hard to provide a safe educational environment for students and that districts have been following his executive orders because they are guided by science and are focused on keeping our students and staff safe. That’s the best we can ask under these circumstances.”
As of Dec. 9, nearly 1.9 million Illinoisans have tested positive for COVID-19, of which nearly 400,000 are under the age of 20. There have been 30,000 confirmed or probable COVID deaths. At least four Illinois public school employees died of COVID during the 2019-20 school year, at least eight in the 2020-21 school and at least one this school year. Currently, there are 163 active “youth outbreaks” in the state. Between June and August of this year, the Delta variant resulted in a five-fold increase of child hospitalizations, and between July 3 and Oct. 30, the case rate for those under age 20 increase from 17 per 100,000 to 142 per 100,000.
As of Dec. 9, all 102 counties in Illinois are coded red for high transmission on the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Community Transmission Map – the most critical rating.
At 135,000 members strong, the Illinois Education Association (IEA) is the largest union in Illinois. The IEA represents PreK-12 teachers outside the city of Chicago and education support staff, higher education faculty and support staff, retired education employees and students preparing to become teachers, statewide.