Students decide to mask or not to mask

VHHS’ journey to become a mask recommended school

Walking down the halls of VHHS, one might see a student wearing a mask walking next to a student who has chosen to go mask free. While a sight like this might seem natural today, it took time to get here.

On Feb. 4, Sangamon County Judge Raylene DeWitte Grischow ordered a temporary restraining order against Governor J.B. Pritzker’s mask mandate. This decision, which resulted from a lawsuit with parents from more than 147 school districts across Illinois, including 7 families from District 128, was made by Judge Grischow on the basis that Governor Pritzker did not have the legislative authority to enact these laws. 

“The IDPH is limited by law to delegate its authority only to certified local health departments and has not been authorized by the legislature to delegate any of its authority to any other body of government, including school districts,” (section I, paragraph 14). 

In accordance with Judge Grischow’s decision, many neighboring school districts quickly transitioned to optional mask policies for students, including, but not limited to Barrington, Lake Forest, Arlington Heights and more. 

Despite this, District 128 initially remained firm in its stance. On Sunday, Feb. 6, the Superintendent sent an email to D128 students and parents stating the district would continue to enforce mask mandates within the school for all students, faculty and visitors, an exception being the students named as the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, as these rules, according to the email, have allowed both VHHS and LHS to remain open safely for in-person learning and extracurriculars.

This decision sparked controversy within the school and community. During the week of Feb. 7, students and parents in favor of an optional mask policy held protests in front of the VHHS building. 

Justin St. Louis (12), one of the leaders of the movement, said through these protests, his group was able to get their message across.

“Even though my dad put us [him and his sister] down as representatives, I believe it shouldn’t be just me, but more people. So, I’m standing out there and trying to represent other people,” St. Louis said. “I like public speaking, and people were looking for a person to articulate their thoughts well, so I thought I could do a good job in that aspect.” 

Douglas Head (10), who also participated in the protests, said the goal of the protests is to make the district equal to those around, in terms of optional mask policies.

“I respect [the mask mandate], but personally don’t agree with it, and so do a lot of other kids. That’s why it’s a protest,” Head said.

On all days of protest, VHHS student protesters were given three choices: to stay in the west gym if they refused to put on a mask, put the mask on and go back to class, or finally, leave on the basis of a mental health day, which according to Head, was what the majority chose on the first day of protests. 

On the morning of Feb. 10, protests continued, and VH protesters collaborated with protesters from other schools in the surrounding area, such as Libertyville and Mundelein, and brought students from other schools onto the protesting grounds of VHHS: the front entrance.

In response to the protests, however, students opposing an optional mask policy have also spoken out. 

Senior Sophie Chiewtrakoon (12, she/her) believes it is harmful to get other schools involved because many of them see themselves as freedom fighters. She believes that everyone has their First Amendment rights, but when students are being disruptive, it’s a different story.

“They’re technically disrupting the entire student body… there are different constitutional rules for when students are on school grounds… I think their right to education becomes nullified when they start breaking the rules that are put into place,” she said.

Junior Amy Rupsis (11, she/her) agreed.

“Not only are they losing their education days at a time, but they’re also disrupting other classes and people from the quality and value of their learning,” said Rupsis.

The morning protests consisted of unmasked students and parents peacefully holding posters and gathering.

“I see a lot of signs saying ‘I do not consent’ or… ‘no consent for experimental medical devices’ implying that the masks are experimental, when surgeons have been using them for decades to create a sterile environment. It’s just misinformation all around,” said Chiewtrakoon.

St. Louis states that the posters serve a different purpose.

“The posters are for people to see the main point,” said St. Louis. “A big sign is getting the point across while you don’t even need to exchange the dialogue with people.”

While most protests have been peaceful, there are reports of some inappropriate behaviors by students. However, St. Louis does not agree with these actions.

“I don’t encourage some of the stuff the group has done, like yelling at teachers. I think that’s crossing a line,” said St. Louis.

Chiewtrakoon and Rupsis also called for peace and respect.

“I feel like we are living in a time where our opinions contradict each other all the time, and we can’t get violent with that, we can’t argue with that,” said Rupsis.

Similarly, St. Louis said, “I’d like to have civil discourse with the other side: If you disagree with us, why do you think we have the bad opinion instead of the two sides just conflicting?”

Despite the difference in opinion, these students can agree on one thing: respect. 

“I know that my opinion will contradict many others, but I still have to look on their side and see where they’re coming from so that things don’t get out of hand,” said Rupsis.