Parents, lawmakers fight Illinois mask mandate in schools
ROCKFORD — Some parents and elected officials are pushing back against Gov. JB Pritzker’s mask mandate for all pre-kindergarten through 12th grade schools, saying instead the decision should be left to parents.
Pritzker on Wednesday announced mandatory indoor masking for staff and children at all public and private schools.
“We are vehemently against mandating masks,” said Jim Mcllroy, founder of Elevate & Inspire, a parents group that held an “unmask our children” rally last month outside the Winnebago County Health Department.
“We are 100% in favor of parental choice. Accountability and responsibility of the children is something that is in the hands of parents, and that is not something that should be in the hands of the governor. It should not be in the hands of the mayor, it should not be in the hands of Dr. (Sandra) Martel from the Winnebago County Health Department,” he said.
McIlroy, as well as Republican lawmakers here and across the state, are criticizing Pritzker’s latest rules intended to protect people from the coronavirus.
“COVID-19 must be taken seriously as a public health concern, but it is just one of many threats confronting communities across our state,” state Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, said in a statement released in response to Pritzker’s mandate.
“The fact is, COVID patients represent only 4% of the total number of people hospitalized in Illinois. COVID patients comprise 9% of occupied intensive care beds in the state. Meanwhile, according to the CDC, one person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from heart disease and just under 600,000 die each year from various types of cancer. The governor does not declare these to be public health emergencies and usurp power from the people’s elected representatives in order to rule the state by executive order to reduce heart disease and cancer. We need to look at life holistically and not single out COVID-19 as the single greatest threat to our health. Vaccination should remain an individual’s personal choice and children should not be forced to wear masks in school.”
McIlroy’s group, which has about 2,000 members, wants everyone’s freedom of choice, including children, Mcllroy said. He called last month’s demonstration a “peaceful assembly.”
“I’m really trying to build up a group of people who feel comfortable and safe expressing their First Amendment rights,” he said. “We do not want to be (seen as) an aggressive, intimidating group.”
The group was founded last March, and its goals go beyond anti-mask efforts, Mcllroy said, adding that he understands that’s the perception.
“It was originally designed so that we can elevate businesses and people in the area, and protect and honor our Constitution and our freedom of choice,” he said. “We want to be pioneers and difference-makers. We’re really trying to help our community come together, protect our children and be the voice for our children.”
The governor’s mandate follows the Illinois Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest recommendation last week, which is universal masking indoors in areas where the virus is surging. This includes those who are fully vaccinated.
Local officials should have control over decisions that affect their schools and communities, not the governor, said state Sen. Brian Stewart, R-Freeport.
“Gov. Pritzker has made decisions that shut down our state, forced the closure of countless small businesses, and put thousands of residents out of work,” Stewart said in a statement. “His lack of leadership then failed to provide a state system to help newly unemployed Illinoisans receive the most basic of financial assistance when they needed it most. And just as the state seems to be getting back on its feet, the governor once again acts unilaterally to issue a series of new mandates.”