Saying that “enforcement has been ripped away from us for now,” District 202 Superintendent Eric Witherspoon told teachers and other staff members Tuesday afternoon that the COVID-19-related school mask requirement is no longer in effect at Evanston Township High School.

In a webinar presentation to employees, Witherspoon said the combination of court decisions and a legislative committee action means there is currently “no state rule to enforce.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is currently asking the Illinois Supreme Court to reinstate the school requirement, but it’s unknown when or if that will take place.

Witherspoon said it is “important to stress” that staff and students “should wear masks while this is sorted out,” and said all administrators will continue with face coverings.

While the reality is that masks are no longer mandated at ETHS, Witherspoon said that using the term “‘mask optional’ makes it seem like we don’t care.”

“We highly recommend masks,” he stressed.

The superintendent went over the ongoing statewide battle which is still playing out.

Earlier this month, a lower court in Springfield tossed the mask mandate, but only for 143 school districts which were defendants in a lawsuit. District 202 was not one of those defendants.

Then an appeals court banned masks in schools statewide, but said local districts could require masks on their own.

However, Witherspoon said when a state legislative panel then refused to renew the governor’s emergency mask authority, a mandate was no longer possible.

“This is more of a legal battle right now than a medical one,” he noted.

Witherspoon said ETHS will continue to monitor whatever developments come out of the courts, the governor’s office and the legislature.

“We’re doing the best we can with what we know,” he added.

While Witherspoon indicated the mask mandate is lifted immediately because there’s no enforceable rule on the books anymore, a district website message says the requirement will stay until Feb. 28.

Evanston Now has contacted the district trying to get an explanation for the discrepancy.

Thursday and Friday this week are non-attendance days for students at ETHS.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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