Illinois school mask mandate ruling sends districts into chaos, suburban parents plan protests

COVID Illinois: About 55 students at Hinsdale Central High School refused to wear masks Monday, were separated

Wednesday, February 9, 2022
School mask policies in chaos after ruling, parents plan protests
As the Illinois mask requirement in schools remains in question after a downstate judge's ruling, suburban Chicago parents are planning protests.

GLENVIEW, Ill. (WLS) -- Parents planned a protest in Glenview Tuesday, after an Illinois judge's ruling forced many schools Monday to decide whether to continue with a mask mandate or to make them optional. Emotions across the state are running high.

Some school districts kept their mask rules in place, while others made them optional, as COVID cases decline nationwide.

At Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Glenview, a group of parents staged a protest in the cold Tuesday morning.

Dozens said they don't want the school to continue to require masks; they want masks to be optional.

The parents and students said they're not against masks; they just want the choice.

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They showed up holding up "mask optional" signs, hoping to change the policy at the pre-K through eighth grade Catholic school.

"We just wanted to band together because courage is contagious and let Chicago and the archdiocese and Illinois and everyone just know how we feel," parent Kristin Spieldenner said.

Brian Baker agreed.

"We just would like a choice, and we are not anti-mask. We just want parent choice," he said.

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Emotions boiled over during a meeting in Naperville Monday night.

"Why are you continuing to enforce a mandate that is null and void?" Lisa O'Reir said. "You have all shown your true colors. It is not the children you care about."

"I'm not sure who you represent but it is not us," said another parent.

"This type of evil is exactly what the law was intending to constrain; yet you continue to perpetrate this evil -- the judge's words, not mine," Kevin Sawotsky said.

The parents from District 203 read from the temporary restraining order. Last Friday, a judge in downstate Sangamon County ruled against Gov. JB Pritzker's mask mandate inside school buildings, in response to lawsuits involving parents and teachers from more than 150 districts.

Attorney General Kwame Raoul officially filed an appeal Monday morning.

"On the one hand, it's not clear to who this applies and who benefits from it, and on the other hand everyone is kind of assuming this is just one decision that will be overruled soon enough," said Northwestern Law School Professor Nadav Shoked. "Everyone is also assuming they can get away with whatever they do, that there is not going to be a real penalty to what they do."

And adding to the uncertainly, Gov. Pritzker hinted that the statewide mask mandate may be dropped in the near future following announcements that other big states like New Jersey and California are on the brink of doing so.

"I really believe we ought to be looking seriously at how to ratchet that back," Pritzker said, even though he condemned the judge's ruling and vowed a swift appeal. "I think we're going to be making announcements very soon about that."

Pritzker said exact metrics to drop the mandate are still being worked out, though schools may be dealt with separately due to specific issues relating to them.

After that ruling went in favor of the lawsuit, whose plaintiffs include parents from District 203, the board decided in a closed-door Sunday meeting that they would continue to require masks in schools.

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"Naperville made a decision per the guidance of health departments to continue the requirement of masking in schools, buses, after-school activities, with the exception of the named parties in the lawsuit," said Superintendent Dan Bridges.

Several parents at that meeting in Naperville promised legal action against the school superintendent and possibly the school board if no change is made imminently.

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Some surrounding school districts, including Schaumburg, Elmhurst, Arlington Heights, Barrington and Wheaton, have chosen to make masks optional. Dozens of students showed up at Naperville schools Monday maskless. They were separated out and did e-learning activities.

Some students in Glenview said they're ready, too.

"Well it's tough to breathe, and I don't even get to see my friends smile anymore. It's very frustrating," fifth grader Lawson said.

"To be honest, it doesn't feel like there is a plan for dropping the masks, and that's what we're really concerned about," parent Laura Hayes said.

The archdiocese said it's considering the recent court ruling, but, in the meantime, the current mask requirement will remain in place.

Between vitriol, tears and begging for mask choice, just a few parents and a teacher stepped up to back the Naperville board's decision to keep masks mandatory for now.

"Their goal is to intimidate you," one parent said. "You guys have kept school running."

"The majority, the actual majority of families out there, know that for the past 23 months you have had our back," another added.

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For some of the districts named in the lawsuit that resulted in the temporary restraining order, administrators said removing the mask mandate for their schools was a legal decision.

"What we issued last night we did with full recognition that it's being appealed and that it is possible and likely that something will change," said Superintendent Jeff Schuler, Community Unit School District 200.

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Meanwhile, Chicago Public Schools said it will continue to require masks, as will U-46 in Elgin.

The state's second largest school district will have an exemption for a handful of students whose parents were part of the lawsuit, but that's it.

"Based on the wording of the temporary restraining order, we believe we still have the authority to enforce mask wearing as part of our local mitigation efforts, and again, the local bargaining agreements that we have that compel us to provide a safe environment for our employees to work," U-46 Superintendent Tony Sanders said.

CPS said in a statement last week that the court's ruling does not prohibit the school district from continuing its COVID-19 mitigation policies and procedures, including universal masking, and that the district "will stay the course."

Anti-mask families rally outside Clarendon Hills/Hinsdale District 181

Anti-mask parents brought signs, American flags and their kids to a protest outside School District 181 headquarters Monday.

District Breakdown:

- Chicago Public Schools: Masks required

- Timothy Christian Schools: Masks optional

- U-46 in Elgin: Masks required

- Barrington School District: Masks recommended but not required

- District 200 in Wheaton: Masks recommended but not required

- District 67 in Lake Forest: Masks recommended but not required

-Geneva School District 304: Mask optional on Tuesday.

-Hinsdale/Clarendon Hills School District 181: Open Tuesday. Masks optional but encouraged.

-Schaumburg District 54: Masks not required

- St. Charles CUSD 303: Masks suggested but not required

-Orland School District 135: Masks not required

-Wheaton School District 200: Masks recommended but not required

-Plainfield District 202: Masks recommended but not required

-Lisle District 202: Continuing mask mandate, will make final decision after survey of parents

-Algonquin District 300: Open Tuesday, continuing mask mandate

-Benet Academy: Open Tuesday, masks recommended but not required