Dear Huntley 158 Staff & Families:
On Friday, February 4, a ruling was issued on two different lawsuits in Illinois regarding COVID mitigations and school districts. As we communicated yesterday, Huntley 158 is one of many school district defendants named in one of these lawsuits (Austin v. Pritzker) which was brought by parents across Illinois against 145 school districts and the State. We have been working as an administrative team over the weekend in consultation with our attorneys in order to review the complexities of the ruling. We also held an Emergency Board of Education meeting today in order to approve our plan moving forward.
Here is what you need to know:
What is the ruling?
Both lawsuits asked for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the State, which prevents school districts from enforcing the use of masks in our buildings and also prevents us from excluding close contacts from school based on state guidance. The ruling passed down from the judge on Friday, February 4 has granted the temporary restraining order against the State. As such, we are now in a position in which we cannot enforce masking or exclusion from school for close contacts in our district.
What should my student(s) expect on Monday, February 7?
As a result of this ruling, effective Monday, February 7, masks will be strongly recommended for our students and staff in Huntley 158 while the Temporary Restraining Order is in effect. Please be aware of the following:
- Well-fitting masks are strongly recommended while at school.
- We will not be performing contact tracing or excluding close contacts from school until further notice. Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 will continue to be excluded from school.
- Students who are currently in isolation are expected to complete their full period of isolation before returning to school and will be required to wear a mask upon their return during days 6-10 after testing positive for COVID-19.
- Students who have been deemed a close contact and are currently in quarantine may return to school effective Monday, February 7.
- Weekly testing is no longer required for unvaccinated staff.
- SHIELD, BinaxNOW and Test to Stay testing opportunities are still available to students and staff. This will remain a voluntary option for all families, and you may opt in to the testing program here if you have not already done so.
- We strongly encourage students or staff who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 to stay home and get tested.
- Please note, if a student needs to go to the health office for any reason, they will be asked to wear a mask in this area in order to be mindful of the safety of both ill and healthy students who may need to visit the nurse. Masks will be provided in this circumstance.
IMPORTANT: The ruling of the Austin v. Pritzker case DOES NOT impact the federal mask mandate on school buses and all public transportation. This is a federal requirement and is not being contested by this ruling. ALL students and staff will continue to be required to wear a mask while on the bus.
We are also working to provide for the greatest degree of distancing possible in our buildings to maintain the safety of our students and staff as much as we can, and we will continue with our cleaning and disinfecting procedures in all of our buildings.
What will happen next?
At this time, the state will be filing an appeal which seeks to overturn this ruling. The judge has not ordered a stay on the TRO, which means that the governor’s authority to mandate universal masking in schools has been overturned. The current ruling will stand until the appeal process is concluded or a stay is issued. According to legal counsel, we could have an update on this process within two weeks. At that time, we will communicate the results of the appeal and the impact on our students and families.
Please know, as it has been throughout the entirety of this pandemic, our focus is to protect the learning environment of our students. We realize this is an emotional issue, but as an educational institution we remain focused on the ability of our students to learn and grow in the most appropriate environment. We are confident that the mitigations still available to us give us the ability to educate your children safely while adapting to meet the needs of this ever-changing pandemic. While not every solution can satisfy everyone’s wishes, we can promise that we will continue to communicate details and information as necessary, we will listen to and address our families’ concerns as quickly as possible, and we will leverage the mitigation strategies in our buildings to the furthest extent within the boundaries set forth by the Court. We ask that as a community, we continue to care for one another, be patient, be kind, and put our students first.
COVID-19 and its vast impact has shaped us in more ways than one, but I ask that you continue to acknowledge the power of education to bridge gaps, heal divides, and spark growth. The commitment to excellence in education has and will continue to shape our common ground despite the difficult times we are living through.
We will let you know as soon as we have additional information. We appreciate your continued partnership to ensure our students have every chance to continue to grow socially, emotionally, and academically in a safe learning environment.
Dr. Scott N. Rowe