Dear Henry-Senachwine District Families and Staff,
As you are likely aware, at approximately 5:00 p.m. on Friday, February 4, 2022, a judge in Sangamon County issued a 29-page order in response to two different lawsuits seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the enforcement of the Illinois Governor’s executive orders, IDPH (Illinois Department of Public Health) / ISBE (Illinois State Board of Education) guidance and emergency rules, and the State and certain boards of education as they relate to masking, quarantining of students, and vaccinating or testing of employees.
While the judge’s order was issued as a single document, it was in response to two distinct lawsuits, one related to specifically-named students and one related to specifically-named school employees. Neither the Henry-Senachwine School District nor any Board members, employees, or students were named in the lawsuit. Notably, the judge declined the plaintiff’s request to certify a class action.
While the 29-page order speaks specifically to the named parties in the two lawsuits, the final two footnotes, #39/#40 on page-28, state the following: "Although this Court denied Plaintiff's request for Class Certification in Case No: 2021-CH-500002/500007, this Court has declared IDPH's Emergency Rules void. Any non-named Plaintiffs and School Districts throughout this State may govern themselves accordingly.”
These final two footnotes triggered swift response across the State. Supporters of the order interpreted “…may govern themselves accordingly” as rationale to immediately halt the COVID-19 mitigation measures currently in place throughout the State, inclusive of both named and non-named individuals and districts, despite class certification being explicitly denied in a separate order. Legal interpretation varied, resulting in hasty chaos in the days that followed. You have likely seen this play out on the news and other media sources over the course of this week as named and non-named districts across the State have made moves, both in support and in rejection of, the judge’s order based on district-by-district interpretation of the order.
The Henry-Senachwine School District is supported by Robbins Schwartz (https://www.rsnlt.com), a legal firm specializing in education law. Robbins Schwartz is representing some of the named defendants in the litigation and their team of attorneys worked diligently to provide legal analysis and guidance before school resumed on Monday. On Sunday afternoon, the Henry-Senachwine administration and board, along with 800+ other individuals represented by or familiar with Robbins Schwartz, attended a multi-hour live webinar where the judge’s order, corresponding legal analysis, and impact on Illinois school districts was discussed. While we understand that legal interpretations may vary, the general message conveyed was that non-named defendant districts would be best positioned from a legal and risk management position to stay the course with the currently in-place COVID-19 mitigation measures, at least in the short-term, given the fluidity of the TRO, the possibility of a stay order being entered, and the expedited appeal process.
Open questions that existed on the eve of school resuming Monday included, but were not limited to:
- Would the court grant the State’s request for a Stay? (i.e. Pausing enforcement of the TRO while an expedited appeal process takes place). If the Stay was granted, all parties, both named and non-named, would once again be subject to the State’s COVID-19 mitigation measures. The timing for the answer to this question was estimated at 1-2 days from Monday, Feb 7th.
- Would the order be overturned upon appeal? (The State communicated the intent to file an emergency appeal on Monday, Feb 7th.) The timing for the answer to this question was estimated at 1-2 weeks from Monday, Feb 7th.
- Were there any existing employee or union contracts that contained specific language that would restrict decisions made with regards to modifying COVID-19 mitigation measures?
- Would the Henry-Senachwine District be at risk for compromised insurance coverage if COVID-19 mitigation measures were removed?
- Would the Henry-Senachwine District be at risk for losing any type of State and/or Federal funding if COVID-19 mitigation measures were removed?
- Would IHSA and IESA implement restrictions to Henry-Senachwine District athletes and/or teams if COVID-19 risk mitigations were removed?
- Did the local Bureau-Marshall-Putnam Health Departments have any position or guidance to offer with regards to current COVID-19 statistics or trends in region?
- Would the current State guidelines be adjusted to account for a potential increase in requests for remote learning? (i.e. Remote learning is currently restricted to quarantined students only.)
- What would the impact of changing COVID-19 risk mitigation strategies, potentially back and forth multiple times, be on the operations of the District and the stability and routine for the students and staff?
- Could there be any other unintended consequences of voluntarily electing to interpret the judge’s order, particularly the footnote text “…may govern themselves accordingly”, as rationale for immediately lifting the COVID-19 mitigation measures?
With these and other questions pending and unanswered as of 5:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, calling an emergency board meeting did not seem fitting as the District was without necessary answers to make an informed decision about any possible changes to COVID-19 mitigation measures. As such, the Superintendent sent a communication to District families indicating that school procedures for Monday, February 7th would remain as they had been previously, giving additional time for the above questions to be answered. At this time, some questions have been answered while others continue to be pending.
During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Henry-Senachwine District has been committed to maintaining a safe and healthy in-person learning environment for our students and staff. Additionally, the District has remained steadfast with regards to adhering to local and State guidance. The students and staff of the District have responded and adapted with admirable commitment and dedication.
We are eager for our students and staff to regain the normalcy that existed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. As additional information is provided and questions are answered, the administration and Board of Education are preparing our thoughts and positions regarding the appropriate next steps, with the hope that we are in a position to move forward with a return to normalcy, while still upholding virtues of integrity, prudence, and purpose.
We appreciate your patience, cooperation, and understanding as we journey on this path together. We are sharing this level of detail with you to aid in your understanding of the factors that are going into our timeline and decision-making process. Thank you for entrusting us to research the details of complicated matters such as these and make what we feel are the best decisions for the students and staff of our District.
We look forward to sharing more information soon.
Henry-Senachwine CUSD #5 Board of Education
Mr. Randy Witko
Mrs. Angie Earles
Mr. Jeremy Kiesewetter
Ms. Mary Jo Klein
Mrs. Melissa Thompson
Mrs. Lori DeWeerth
Mr. James Downey