Students at Warren Township and Mundelein high schools protested mask requirements today following a recent court ruling by a downstate judge.
On Friday, Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow “deemed null and void” the governor’s emergency rules through the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) concerning COVID-19 mitigations for schools.
Schools impacted by litigation brought by more than 700 parents and dozens of school staff are temporarily restrained from enforcing Pritzker’s COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates.
Students at Warren Township High School’s Almond Campus in Gurnee walked out during class Wednesday morning to protest mask requirements.
A statement by Warren Township High School District 121 on January 11 stated that masks are required for everyone inside during the school day, except for specific purposes like eating lunch.
Many people urged the district to remove the mask requirement during a school board meeting on Tuesday, the Chicago Tribune reported.
District 121 Superintendent John Ahlgrim told parents in a letter that the school will continue to enforce the requirement because the district was not named a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Logan Sweene, a senior at Warren Township High School, told Lake and McHenry County Scanner that dozens of students walked out, and he estimates over a hundred students and parents protested outside the school.
Sweene, who is an athlete, told CBS Chicago he finds it very difficult to breathe while playing sports and finds it hard to see people’s smiles.
“It’s hard for me to put a face on anybody,” Sweene said.
He stated students had to use the Black Box Theatre doors, not the main doors, to go back into the building.
School staff addressed the students and told them to either return to class with a mask or stay in the theatre. Many students decided to go home, Sweene said.
“As hundreds of other schools have gone to mask optional, we want Warren High School to do the same thing,” Alex Attiah, a parent, told CBS Chicago.
The board of education for District 121 may meet on Thursday to vote if masks will be optional, CBS Chicago reported.
At Warren Township High School’s O’Plaine Campus, students protesting the mask requirement were addressed by school staff in the gymnasium and auditorium, a student told Lake and McHenry County Scanner.
At Mundelein High School, around 25 students walked out Wednesday morning, CBS Chicago reported.
School officials said those students would not be allowed back into the building without a mask.
Community High School District 128, which includes Libertyville High School and Vernon Hills High School, announced on Sunday they would continue to enforce the mask mandate and quarantine restrictions for all students, staff and visitors except for students named as plaintiffs.
District 128 was one of 146 school districts in the state that were named as defendants.
Students arrived at school on Monday unmasked “as a sign of our desire for freedom from the mask mandate,” a statement from Student Voices Unmasked, which is apparently run by District 128 students, said.
Students walked out for a second day on Tuesday. Libertyville High School students also walked out of school in protest.
On Wednesday, District 128 said in an update they are not making masks optional for the time being as state officials work to try and overturn the ruling.
“To minimize further confusion and maintain consistency, we believe it is necessary to fully understand the legal framework in which we are operating before making any changes,” District 128 Board of Education President Lisa Hessel and Superintendent Denise Herrmann said.
Like many parents and students across the county, Student Voices Unmasked is urging school officials to change their position on the mandate.
“As high school students, many of us are soon graduating and going on to hopefully be the leaders of tomorrow,” Student Voices Unmasked said.
“We also know that as this mask mandate continues, time is running out on our high school experiences. We realize throughout our lives, there will be many situations where we will be forced to make decisions. To take a stand. We believe that time is now. We encourage you to stand with us,” the group added.
Lake Forest school districts 67 and 115, which were both named as defendants in the lawsuit, announced they are not requiring masks in their schools but will continue to recommend them.
Several other school districts in the Chicago area have announced they will not require students or staff to wear masks following the ruling.
On Monday, Pritzker slammed Grischow’s ruling and called it “out of step with the vast majority of legal analysis in Illinois and across the nation.”
He said the ruling “cultivates chaos” and he has urged Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to overturn it “with all possible speed.”
Two days after his comments on the ruling, Pritzker announced he will lift the state’s indoor mask mandate by February 28.
He hinted that an announcement on the school mask mandate could come “weeks hence.”
“We’re not asking for everyone to be with or without (masks). We’re not pro or con. We’re just hoping everyone gets a choice,” Sweene said.