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Illinois Students Walk Out of Class After Being Told to Wear Masks

Newsweek logo Newsweek 2/8/2022 Khaleda Rahman
A sign on the fence outside of Lowell elementary school asks students, staff and visitors to wear a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on January 05, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. © Scott Olson/Getty Images A sign on the fence outside of Lowell elementary school asks students, staff and visitors to wear a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on January 05, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois.

Students at high schools in the Chicago area walked out of class on Monday to protest their district's mask mandate.

A group of students from Vernon Hills High School and Libertyville High School arrived at school on Monday unmasked "as a sign of our desire for freedom from the mask mandate," the students said in a statement posted on a Twitter account called "Student Voices Unmasked."

Students at Vernon Hills High School were escorted to the gymnasium, where the statement said the school principal "addressed us, explained the District's position, and patiently and respectfully fielded our questions."

The students were told they could put on masks and attend class, stay in the gym unmasked or leave school for a mental health day, it said.

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"We respect the District's position. But we also disagree with it," the statement said. "Most of us in this group have spent most of our high school lives behind these masks. For the younger students, their entire high school experience has been covered in masks. We believe it is time for this to end."

Video shared on Twitter showed a number of unmasked students walking out of the school.

Another video showed a large group of students entering Libertyville High School without masks on. A picture posted on Twitter showed students without masks sitting in the school's gymnasium.

Denise Hermann, the superintendent of Community High School District 128, which includes both schools, said in a message to parents and guardians that "the vast majority of D128 students attended class with no disruption to the school day."

But students "who chose not to follow the D128 masking requirements were not allowed in class."

The disruption came after Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow on Friday issued a temporary restraining order against Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker's requirement that students and staff wear face coverings in schools to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Hermann told parents over the weekend that the school district would still enforce the mask mandate except for the named student plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by more than 700 parents at almost 150 school districts across the state that challenged COVID-19 mitigations.

"The masking, along with all of the D128 Prevention Strategies, has allowed both Libertyville and Vernon Hills High School to remain open for in-person learning and extracurricular activities," Hermann said.

On Monday, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul asked the 4th District Appellate Court in Springfield for an emergency halt to the temporary restraining order.

"Absent a stay, students, teachers, and other school employees will be further exposed to COVID-19, leading to additional and likely widespread transmission within schools and in the broader community, increased hospitalizations and deaths, and school staff shortages requiring full remote learning or even school closures," the appeal said.

At a news conference on Monday, Pritzker said: "The judge's decision cultivates chaos for parents, families, teachers and school administrators."

He added: "Wearing masks has never been about what was required by the governor or any other authority. Masks, for most people anyway, have been about doing what's right."

The school district has been contacted for additional comment.

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