The COVID Corral: A Round-Up of COVID Litigation Affecting Schools

The COVID Corral: A Round-Up of COVID Litigation Affecting Schools

Since Governor Pritzker’s first Executive Order and disaster proclamation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been numerous lawsuits challenging his authority, and the authority of various state and local entities, to impose restrictions on individuals, businesses, and schools. The following cases could have an impact on schools throughout the state.

First was a challenge to the Governor’s authority. In Bailey v. Pritzker, a Clay County Judge held that the Governor lacked constitutional authority to restrict the movements of Illinois residents, activities, and/or to forcibly close business premises. While the court declared that the order applied to all of Illinois, it is questionable whether a Clay County Circuit Court judge has jurisdiction over other circuits in Illinois.

Second was a challenge to the authority of the IDPH and ISBE. In Mainer v. IDPH, two parents in Clay County filed a lawsuit against IDPH and ISBE, claiming they lack authority to require face-coverings, temperature checks, and 50-person limits at schools throughout the state. The parents filed a motion for summary judgment, but there has been no substantive ruling in the case.

Third was a challenge to the authority of an individual school board. In Quinn v. Quincy Public School Board of Education, a parent filed a lawsuit in Adams County asking the court to rule that the school board does not have the authority to require students to wear masks and submit to temperature checks before entering school. On August 6, 2020, the court dismissed the lawsuit, holding that the school board has the authority to adopt attendance governing rules when necessary to protect health and safety or to maintain school function pursuant to the Illinois School Code. The court dismissed the case but left the door open for the parents to file an amended lawsuit within 21 days.

Fourth was a challenge to the IHSA’s authority. In DeVore v. IHSA, parents filed a lawsuit in Montgomery County arguing that the IHSA has no authority to implement its Phase 4 Return to Play guidance or its Amended Plan. The parents sought a temporary restraining order, but the court denied it. The court made it clear that nothing in the order denying the TRO pertains to the IDPH’s or the Governor’s authority to require IHSA to implement the IDPH’s COVID-19 guidance and requirements.

In the fifth lawsuit in this ongoing power struggle, Governor Pritzker initiated a lawsuit against public and private schools who threatened to defy the State’s COVID-19 guidance. In Pritzker v. Board of Education of Hutsonville CUSD #1, the Governor filed a lawsuit after all three school entities sent IDPH and ISBE a letter refusing to follow the school-reopening guidelines. Since then, the Hutsonville Board of Education reversed course and voted 4-3 to follow IDPH guidelines. The court also granted the Governor an injunction against the school defendants, which means the schools must follow the mask and social distancing requirements.

Importantly, given the significance of the litigation on schools around the state, the Illinois Supreme Court has since directed that other lawsuits that were filed in various counties across Illinois will be consolidated and heard by the circuit court in Sangamon County. Most recently in that consolidated litigation, oral arguments were set for October 14, 2020.

Although the cases above are of most relevance to Illinois schools, other COVID litigation continues. For example, in addition to the litigation involving Illinois schools, multiple lawsuits involving Illinois businesses and municipalities have been filed over COVID guidelines. And while we have yet to see lawsuits involving educator unions in Illinois, a lawsuit involving Florida’s NEA affiliate has been filed against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to prevent in-person learning while COVID-19 runs rampant in Florida. The court granted the FEA an injunction that blocks Governor DeSantis from enforcing his mandate that all of Florida’s K-12 public schools must reopen for in-person learning by August 31, 2020.

Contact a Hodges Loizzi attorney with questions regarding these lawsuits and the impact on Illinois school districts.

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