Unmasked LHS students protest against D128 mask mandate


Sarah Wuh

Students participate in the protest and spend their time in the Main Gym. They chose this option over returning home or putting on a mask to go to class. Back row, left to right: Freshman Sean Criel, junior Caleb Christensen, sophomore Emilie Bissing. Front row: Junior Zachary Gay, junior Colin Tippet.

Note: A previous version of this story has been edited due to Drops of Ink misquoting an individual because of a misconstrued interview transcript.

On Monday, Feb. 7, students in District 128 protested against the state’s mask mandate by entering LHS without their masks on.

This act of protest was in response to D128’s decision to enforce the mask mandate despite Judge Raylene Grinchow’s ruling in the Seventh Judicial Circuit Court of Sangamon County on Friday, Feb. 4 that granted a temporary restraining order prohibiting the requirement of wearing masks for students and teachers. The ruling also prohibited the exclusion of close contacts from in-person learning and mandatory COVID testing for the unvaccinated. D128 was named a defendant in this case. 

In compliance with the ruling, many high schools, such as Lake Forest High School, Hersey High School and Lakes High School, have lifted their mask requirements, switching to mask-optional. 

However, in a statement addressed to D128 parents, students and teachers on Feb. 6, superintendent Dr. Denise Herrmann confirmed that the mask mandate and quarantine restrictions would remain in place in D128 schools except for the seven named student plaintiffs. Of the seven, six students attend VHHS and one attends LHS. 

This decision was opposed by those who supported the court’s ruling, leading to students and parents gathering outside of the high school on the morning of Feb. 7, with students threatening to enter the school unmasked.

Instead of allowing students into class as usual, unmasked students were ushered by campus security to the Main Gym in accordance with Dr. Herrmann’s decision. From there, they were given the choice to go home without being marked truant, attend their classes remotely from the gym or put on their masks to enter their classrooms.

Junior Collin Tippet decides to stay in the main gym in order to remain unmasked. Tippet brought a copy of Judge Grischow’s ruling along with the Bible and the Constitution to school. (Sarah Wuh)

[LHS administration] realized there were going to be some students who didn’t want to wear masks,” explained LHS Principal Dr. Thomas Koulentes. “We wanted a way to support them… to be able to come to school…to be able to talk to me about how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking. This was the way that we could do that today… No student is getting any consequences.”

However, many students who were part of the protest disagreed with this measure, and believed that it was their right to go to classes in person.

Freshman Jacob Gay, who spent his day in the Main Gym, stated, “This is a civil rights case . . . I don’t care if you wear a mask . . . but if you force me to wear [a mask] just to get a basic education so that I can start the rest of my life, that is where I have the problem.”

On the contrary, some students not participating in the protest believe that keeping LHS classrooms safe while also offering alternatives for students who choose not to wear a mask should be a priority. 

“I’m really glad that District 128 decided to continue mandating masks. I know a lot of people are immunocompromised or have family members that are immunocompromised, so being able to go to school in a safe environment is really nice,” said senior Ambika Trivedi. “I think [the school offering] a hybrid option would be cool for people who don’t want to wear masks… I feel that the people who want to go to school and wear masks should be able to learn in the classrooms without feeling unsafe.”

Some students in the gym also thought that the temporary restraining order should not restrict them to just one room of the school, and wanted to go to their classes in person, as opposed to being virtual from the Main Gym.

*“I believe that it’s a choice to wear a mask, and we need to exercise that right as Americans,” said senior Emily Letang. “We should be able to have the choice to wear a mask and get vaccinated, and I don’t think that we should be discriminated against and segregated for not wearing a mask.”*

Some students not taking part in the protest did not share the view that maskless students should be allowed to go to classes as normal.

“You [put on masks] to protect yourself and other people, so I don’t see why you would want to put other people in danger by not wearing your mask,” explained an anonymous senior at LHS. “I heard that they were complaining that they were missing class because they were protesting… It was their choice not to wear a mask and go to class… They were disrupting their own education.”

In the upper corner of the bleachers, sophomore Ben Slight (right) sits with a group of fellow students who choose not to wear masks. They took part in a protest in response to the Sangamon County Circuit Court’s temporary restraining order making mask mandates optional for schools. (Sarah Wuh)

Students protesting the mandate also believed that their civil rights were being violated in mask mandates because they had the freedom to express themselves by not wearing a mask. 

“I think our whole country is living in fear and masks are just making people worried, and we should let this COVID thing go,” said junior Hudson Abington, who was one of the students doing classes from the Main Gym maskless. “We should drop the mask mandate and vaccination mandates. They’re all tearing this country apart.”

A general feeling of pent up frustration towards the mask mandate was a common thread among the protestors. 

“I’m just so fed up with a mask… They’ve had their way for two years,” stated senior Clarissa Letang, before another student added, “It should be a choice. If you don’t want to get it, if you have health problems, you can wear your mask and you can distance yourself, but it doesn’t affect me.”

However, for some students, these mask mandates directly impact them or their close family members, if they have preexisting conditions.

Senior Grace Bonjour, whose grandmother recently passed away due to COVID, supports a schoolwide mask mandate. “The mask mandate is… going to benefit people and keep people who… are susceptible to having a severe case of COVID safe… A mask might be a minor inconvenience, but I think that [wearing] it would be very worth it to keep people safe.”

As of Feb. 7, in response to the ruling against Illinois’ COVID-19 mitigations, six out of 18 high school districts in Lake County decided to ease their mask mandate while the rest decided to maintain their mask mandates. (Sarah Wuh)

The Judge’s decision leaves an uncertain future for D128’s mask policy, but for the time being, it is expected to remain in place, unchanged. Although some schools in the area have relaxed their mask policy, most others, including Stevenson High School, Lake Zurich High School and Waukegan High School, have kept their mask mandates in place, even in the face of the temporary restraining order.

“Right now the rules that [LHS] has to follow are that you have to wear a mask,” Dr. Koulentes said. “If that changes, then we will change the rules… I want [unmasked students] to be here. I want them to learn. But at the same time, I have to make sure that they don’t violate the ability of other students who wear masks to learn.”

*Note: Senior Emily Letang requested to make a personal statement regarding her quote above. Drops of Ink approved this statement as we do not condone harassment or bullying of any kind in response to quoted individuals.

“I understand that my use of the word ‘segregated’ and ‘discriminated’ can be misinterpreted. I understand the terrible things associated with those words from American history. That is not the only meaning behind the words. ‘Segregated’ means separated. ‘Discriminated’ means different treatment. Students who did not wear a mask were separated from students who chose to wear a mask and not allowed in class. I am biracial and I am not trying to take away from the fact that many people fought for their freedom in much harsher times and conditions. There is no correlation between wearing a mask and race.”