JSD117 Awaits Future Fate of HCRCA

By Benjamin Cox on November 8, 2021 at 6:11am

Jacksonville School District 117 is still in limbo when it comes to the Health Care Right of Conscience Act exemptions from the statewide Covid-19 vaccination and/or mandatory testing mandates.

Superintendent Steve Ptacek requested action from the Illinois State Board of Education and Governor J.B. Pritzker back in September to lay out if or how the HCRCA could or would be enforced with employees who have filed an exemption under the HCRCA. Ptacek hoped that the General Assembly would clarify the HCRCA so districts around the state could move forward, and possibly avoid large lawsuits, like the one currently in Macoupin County Circuit Court brought by parents and Attorney Thomas DeVore. Back in September, 29 staff and 60 parents asked for a solution on the vaccine and mask mandate from the state and the district, using the HCRCA as the central piece of their argument.

Ptacek says the Illinois General Assembly partially addressed the issue with their amendment to the act during the Veto session last month but it still leaves the district open to massive losses with a lawsuit: “Right now, if we were to enforce the executive order for those claiming exemption under the HCRCA, I and our attorney agrees think that we are more susceptible to a loss in a lawsuit than we were before the General Assembly’s action because by taking that action, they have said as the law currently exists, one can argue that as the law currently exists, the legislature has reinforced that it does currently apply. Since the plaintiff’s attorney could use their action as further evidence that it does apply until June, that means that we are going to currently continue to not enforcing the executive order for those individuals who have made that claim.”

Ptacek says it has not changed any of the day-to-day operations of the district and district-wide Covid numbers remain extremely low. Ptacek says that there hasn’t been any issues with any individuals who signed on to a letter to the School Board in September declaring their exemptions to the mandate under the HCRCA.

Ptacek says he is bringing a recommendation to the board for this month’s meeting when it comes to the district’s mask mandate: “I’m going to be bringing to the board, assuming that our numbers stay low – last year it was Halloween that caused an explosion of numbers – so that I’m assuming by November 17th our numbers stay low – I’m going to be bringing to the board an action item to remove the board’s mandate for masks. That does not mean that the mask mandate will go away because the state’s mandate is still in place. Right now, we kind of have two layers of mandates. We’ve got a board mandate that was passed before the state mandate was issued. Where, based upon our low numbers, I’m asking the board to consider removing that, so that only the state’s mandate on masks stays in play, which means if that mandate were removed, masks would then go away.”

Ptacek says he has not received any direct communications from ISBE or the Governor’s Office about answers to his questions or his letter. Ptacek says he feels that both entities are dealing with the issue statewide and their answers will likely be provided in a court ruling or a statewide-issued press release in the future.