Chicago-area schools face ‘warlike conditions,’ with protests and student walkouts over state’s mask
Attn voting public. You want change? Admit you voted in these idiots and vote them out. Lightfoot, Pritzker, Preckwinkle, ....or prepare to enjoy more of the same.
Chicago-area schools face ‘warlike conditions,’ with protests and student walkouts over state’s mask mandate
By KAREN ANN CULLOTTA
CHICAGO TRIBUNE |
FEB 11, 2022 AT 5:59 PM
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Against a pewter morning sky, a private plane glided over Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire Friday morning, pulling a sign proclaiming “D96, D103 & D125 UNMASK OUR KIDS!!!” as dozens of parents below rocked out to Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
By late morning, a crew of masked teenagers aboard a yellow school bus pulling out of the parking lot at Glenbrook North High School saw the parent protesters holding signs declaring “Mask Optional Court Ruled!” and proceeded to flip off the grown-ups in unison.
Just 30 miles and a world away, at Chicago City Hall, Rousemary Vega, 41, a mother of five, was among the dozens of worried parents who delivered a letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot, pleading for more COVID-19 mitigation protections at the city’s schools and a return to longer quarantines for unvaccinated students.
“My children come home from school, and they start by washing their hands and changing their clothes, but they still can’t hold their baby sister,” said Vega, whose multigenerational household includes her 5-month-old daughter, Jesslyn, who is too young for the vaccine, and Vega’s mother, 61, who has diabetes and is in poor health.
“If we’re going to beat this pandemic, we need to move together as a state, and as a people,” said Vega, who was at City Hall as a parent organizer with Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education.
Just days after Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the state’s mask mandate will be lifted Feb. 28 for most of the general public, but not for schools, and following an Illinois judge’s ruling that the state’s masking requirements for students was authorized illegally, Illinois schools have been thrust into chaos and uncertainty.
While Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow’s temporary lifting of the mask mandate at Illinois schools technically applies only to the students whose parents are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, in the past two weeks many school districts across the state have shifted to mask-optional policies.
Others, including Glenview School District 34, have opted to stay the course — a decision that has proved frustrating to parents like Daniel Tomicevic, a father of three whose 12-year-old daughter, Anastasija, had to spend the day in a former boys locker room at Springman Middle School after she declined to wear a mask in the classroom earlier this week.
“I understand the rules have to be followed, but these are children, and at least the district can try their best to accommodate them so they’re not traumatized,” Tomicevic said.
A District 34 spokeswoman said that with the middle school under construction, “there were limited options that met the need and requirements for the designated space chosen for the infirmary,” adding that the space has not been used as a locker room since the start of the pandemic.
As students cross the street to go to school, dozens of protesters, including Maria Bickers, rally for mask-optional schools outside Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire on Feb. 11, 2022.
As students cross the street to go to school, dozens of protesters, including Maria Bickers, rally for mask-optional schools outside Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire on Feb. 11, 2022. (Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune)
“Maintaining masking at this time not only provides consistency as the appeals process plays out, it also allows us to use shortened quarantine periods and make use of test-to-stay protocols which, in turn, allow us to keep students in school, in person, as much as possible,” the District 34 spokeswoman, Cathy Kedjidjian, said.
Al Llorens, vice president of the Illinois Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said the turmoil facing school districts in recent weeks has found “educators who are afraid because they’re getting threatening emails, little kids are crying and high school kids are walking out.”
“I have teachers telling me they’ve just had the worst week in their careers, and are dealing with warlike conditions,” said Llorens. “I don’t know what the answer is. It’s playing out in the courts and is the decision of the health department and the governor. But the students need to be our North Star.”
In a Friday message to parents titled, “This Morning’s Events at Stevenson High School,” officials said about 40 parents and 50 students were protesting on campus when educators “began receiving multiple reports from students who were afraid and felt unsafe.”
“Some students were verbally assaulted by parent and student protesters while entering and exiting the building during a morning passing period. Additionally, we witnessed parents and students banging on windows by the Point entrance,” officials said.
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The high school “worked closely in partnership with the Lincolnshire Police Department to monitor the protesters and ensure the safety of our students, faculty and staff,” officials said.
“We understand that these events may cause feelings of anxiety or confusion among some students, or they may just want to speak with a trusted adult about what happened. As always, members of our Student Services Division are available for students who would like to discuss today’s events,” officials said.
Parent Jen Patel, a Glenview resident and one of three plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed against District 34, said the district was “very good, and very supportive” of her 8-year-old daughter, who was allowed to attend classes without a mask.
Jen Patel, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed against District 34, rallies for mask-optional schools outside Glenbrook North High School on Feb. 11, 2022, in Northbrook.
Jen Patel, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed against District 34, rallies for mask-optional schools outside Glenbrook North High School on Feb. 11, 2022, in Northbrook. (Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune)
While Patel said she supports her fellow parents who wish for their children to continue wearing masks, she believes parents should have a choice.
“The unions are driving this, and it should land square on their shoulders,” Patel said. “My daughter can’t breath with the mask on, she’s losing her social emotional connections with her friends, and she can’t even see her teacher’s face.”
Vega, the mother from Humboldt Park, said the pandemic has wrought the greatest challenges for low-income and working-class families.
“There has been a domino effect in Black and brown communities, which have been hit hardest,” Vega said. “If my child comes home COVID positive, and I have to take two or three weeks off work, I can lose my job and end up on the street.”
Eighth grader Roman Rozenbaum, 14, the lone student among the group of parent protesters in Glenview, said he is looking forward to the day when masks are optional at Illinois schools.
“It’s hard to breathe, and it’s really difficult when you can’t see faces,” Rozenbaum said. “The whole COVID experience has been really weird, and it just doesn’t feel normal.”