Despite student protests, mask mandates in place at several Lake County schools

Despite anti-mask mandate protests lead by high school students in Mundelein, Gurnee, Libertyville and Vernon Hills, school officials said they will keep masking policies in effect.

Classes resumed as usual Thursday for students at Mundelein High School and Warren Township High School Almond campus in Gurnee after protests there Wednesday.

Students at Libertyville and Vernon Hills high schools have rallied against mask mandates throughout the week including Thursday.

Tensions arose after a downstate judge on Friday put a temporary restraining order on mask requirements affecting nearly 170 school districts, including dozens of suburban ones, resulting in diverging policies statewide.

On Wednesday morning, about 70 students at Warren High and about two dozen students at Mundelein High opted to join the picket line, officials said.

Warren Township High School District 121 Superintendent John Ahlgrim said about 50 students decided to go home after the protest and 20 students went to a room in the school where they could work on assignments while unmasked.

Peter Gill, director of public relations for Mundelein High School District 120 and Mundelein Elementary District 75, said any students there who decided to return to class after the protest were required to wear a mask. He added that the number of protesters was relatively small considering Mundelein High's nearly 2,000 students and that the majority of students had a typical school day wearing masks.

There were no protests in those districts Thursday and there was no word of any protests going forward, Gill added.

Ahlgrim expressed his appreciation for the district community's flexibility and understanding as officials navigate pandemic challenges.

"While we all hope that mask mandates are no longer necessary in the near future, WTHS currently has a face covering policy in place for students, staff and visitors in our buildings," Ahlgrim said. "Let's keep our collective school in mind as we continue to wear masks."

Students at Libertyville and Vernon Hills high schools protested several times during the week, including Thursday, officials said.

Students were given the choice of putting on a mask and going to class, leaving school and having a parent report an absence, or staying in a designated area to complete classwork, officials said.

Libertyville-Vernon Hills High School District 128 has kept mask mandates in place at both high schools.

Citing a "challenging beginning to the week," Superintendent Denise Hermann and school board President Lisa Hessel issued a joint statement Wednesday.

"This continues to be a matter of pending litigation, and we are eager to receive clarification as we chart a path forward," the statement read. The school board agreed with legal advice that no changes would be made to the mask requirement for students other than those named in the lawsuit, they added.

"The ruling has resulted in confusion in its application across the state," according to the statement. "Due to the possibility of a stay being granted and the temporary restraining order reversed, we are avoiding prematurely changing our procedures only to have to change them back again."

Hermann and Hessel said the district was committed that students on either side of the issue be treated with respect, that those entering school buildings are free from intimidation, and that staff members intervene if a student on either side is being taunted or bullied.

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