ALGONQUIN, Ill. — Anger over school mask mandates is reaching a boiling point in the northern suburbs.
Dozens of District 300 parents and students protested the school’s decision to keep the mask mandate in place ahead of Tuesday’s school board meeting in Algonquin. The demonstration comes as most of the district’s thousands of students were back in their classrooms Tuesday with their masks on.
“I’m standing up for my kids,” Suzette Kallhoff told WGN News.
The mother of three says her children all attend district schools and questions the effectiveness of masks tools to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Everyone’s had time to get vaccinated, the masks haven’t made a difference with cases, the studies are shown and enough is enough,” Kallhoff said.
Randi Gauthier is also a mother of three, with two children enrolled in district schools. She told WGN News she is pro-mask and pro-mitigation.
“I believe in following regulations,” Gauthier said. “I believe in following state mandates, basic human decency.”
Gauthier says those who compare wearing masks during a pandemic to brutal tyranny and fascism are prioritizing hyperbole and hysteria over health.
“Wearing a piece of cloth on your face is a very easy thing you can do to keep your fellow community members safe and healthy and keep their family members at home safe and healthy,” Gauthier said.
The state’s sixth-largest school district canceled classes Monday amid confusion over a downstate court ruling that Gov. JB Pritzker overstepped his legal authority in issuing the mask mandate.
Pritzker disagreed with the ruling Monday, saying in part, “The judge’s decision cultivates chaos for parents, families, teachers, and school administrators across the state.”
The district says an expected appellate court decision is due by Feb. 17.
But confusion remains about the ruling’s scope. Does it mean all school mask mandates are invalid, or does it only apply to the parties within the lawsuit? In District 300, only 19 students were involved in the suit – and district officials have taken a narrow interpretation.
In a statement, the district’s superintendent Susan Harkin said, “Aside from the parties to the lawsuit, district 300 will continue to enforce requirements relating to masks and school exclusion for close contacts.”
The move outraged some parents, who demanded an end to the mandates and for the district to adopt a ‘mask optional’ approach.
“I think it’s a joke,” one parent told WGN News. “I’ve never owned a mask since 2020.”
Despite some pledges of disobedience, many students, teachers, coaches, and staff have expressed health concerns, especially with young students still unvaccinated.
The largest union in the state is the Illinois Education Association, which represents 135,000 non-CPS teachers.
In a statement, the union’s president Kathi Griffin writes, “We’ve been able to have students in classrooms all over the state for this school year and last and that’s because public health safety measures have been taken that follow the advice of scientists and health care professionals. Without those safety measures in place, we risk forcing thousands of teachers, education employees and students to be out sick or forced into quarantine.”
“I’m not too concerned either way. He’s vaccinated,” one mother said about her son. “It’s what they want us to do, so we’ll do it.”
“I think it’s the district throwing a tantrum against parents who spoke up,” another mother told WGN News.
The district says students who refuse to wear masks could be moved out of classrooms and disciplined.