Crime & Courts

2 McHenry County parents file lawsuit over school mask mandate

The women claim that requiring their children to wear face coverings at school is an invasion of privacy, violation of their rights under the Illinois Constitution

A pair of McHenry County mothers are suing Gov. JB Pritzker, claiming the mandate requiring their children to wear face coverings at school is an invasion of privacy, among other allegations.

In the lawsuit filed Aug. 9, Laura Murray and Christine Polheber are seeking injunctive relief from the governor’s Aug. 4 mandate that requires students, teachers and staff ages two and older to wear masks at school regardless of vaccination status.

The women’s children attend Conley Elementary School and Heineman Middle School, both public schools in Algonquin, and Zion Lutheran School, a private school in Marengo, according to the lawsuit.

The case has since been transferred to Sangamon County, along with “numerous cases filed statewide” challenging the governor’s emergency authority, according to a motion filed by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.

Pritzker issued his mask mandate in response to the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant, according to the governor’s office.

Through their attorney Lance Ziebell, however, the women claim there is no disaster or public health emergency allowing Pritzker to assert emergency powers. The women also claim that mandating their children to wear face coverings at school is an invasion of privacy and a violation of their rights under the Illinois Constitution.

“The numbers don’t support a ‘public health emergency,’ ” Ziebel wrote in the women’s civil complaint. “While COVID-19 satisfies the first element of a ‘public health emergency,’ the numbers do not, at the risk of minimizing even one death, represent a large number of deaths in the affected population – people tragically die of cancer, car accidents, or being murdered in the City of Chicago at the same pace as COVID-19 deaths and Pritzker does not declare these a ‘public health emergency.’”

Just more than 1,000 people died because of crashes in 2019 in Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. Additionally, the death rate for cancer, which unlike COVID-19 is not contagious, is 158.3 per 100,000 men and women per year, according to the National Cancer Institute, and 965 murder complaints were filed in the City of Chicago for 2020 and 2021 combined, according to the Chicago Police Department.

In Illinois, 26,144 people have died from COVID-19, including both confirmed and probable cases, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. That translates to about 205 deaths per 100,000 people, using 2018 population estimates for Illinois.

Ziebell did not return phone calls seeking comment.

In addition to arguing that Pritzker doesn’t have grounds to issue a universal masking requirement, the women also alleged that the mandate is a violation of their privacy and right to parent their children.

“[Murray and Polheber] have suffered, or will suffer, irreparable harm due to Pritzker’s August 2021 Order,” Ziebell wrote. “There is no amount of money Pritzker can pay [Murray and Polheber] for his violation of their rights to privacy, due process of law and equal protection of the laws. There is no amount of money Pritzker can pay Murray or Polheber for violating their fundamental right to parent their children. There is no amount of money Pritzker can pay to the minors in this case for the anxiety, diminished learning, and physical issues they may face from being forced to wear face coverings.”

It was not immediately clear what physical issues the women fear their children might face from wearing masks.

In a FAQ on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, the agency notes that carbon dioxide levels breathed in by mask wearers do not rise. Additionally, despite speculation that frequent mask-wearing could impact dental health, an American Dental Association survey conducted through the Health Policy Institute found the survey no meaningful change in the prevalence reported for conditions, such as bad breath and dry mouth, compared to pre-pandemic.

The lawsuit also alleges that the number of deaths tied to COVID-19 has been on a “downward trend” since December.

“There is no ‘disaster’ or ‘public health emergency,’ only misleading statistics,” Ziebell wrote.

While the number of deaths tied to COVID-19 remain well below November and December highs, they have begun to tick upward in recent weeks as the highly contagious delta variant spreads in Illinois and across the U.S., IDPH data shows.

Hospitalizations have also been on the rise, reaching 1,952 total hospitalizations Monday, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The state hasn’t seen that many people hospitalized for COVID-19 since May 6.

While hospitalizations among children, especially in the younger group not yet eligible for a vaccine, remain low, they also have risen in recent weeks.

When cases spiked during the fall surge, children younger than 12 made up less than a half-percent of total COVID-19-related hospitalizations, according to state data. That percentage has tripled since then, and the raw total of hospital admissions for young kids was higher in July 2021 than August 2020.