Most students remove masks after lawsuit puts Governor mandate in question


Anna Pierson

Students now have the choice whether or not to wear a mask in the building

Anna Pierson and Sarah Patel

In light of the ruling in the class action lawsuit Austin v. Pritzker, most LFHS students are maskless in school for the first time in nearly two years.

First period teachers played a video from Principal Dr. Erin Lenart on Tuesday in which she encouraged students to be respectful and empathetic of one another, regardless of their choice.

“Be the one who goes above when people are taking shots below,” she said. “I stand with you, whatever your reasons, and I think we can create a Lake Forest High School where everyone can exist, exist together and peacefully.”

The lawsuit, which challenges Governor JB Pritzker’s COVID mitigation executive orders, was initially filed by Attorney Thomas DeVore on behalf of parents from 145 school districts across Illinois, including Districts 115 and 67.

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While other school districts restricted mask exclusions to individuals who were a party to the lawsuit, the ambiguity of the ruling allowed other districts, including Districts 67 and 115, to make masks optional for students and staff.

Though still recommended, the school is not requiring or enforcing mask-wearing in the building. Additionally, the school is not requiring vaccines or testing for school staff or excluding those identified as close-contacts from in-person learning.

Some students fear their decision regarding masks is subject to judgment and criticism from peers and staff alike.  According to Dr. Lenart, some students and staff on both sides of the decision said they felt pressure or bullying from peers.

“I absolutely have concerns about being judged for my choice of whether or not to wear a mask to school,” senior Catherine Morris said. “The fact is that masks become politicized, and because of that, people will subconsciously judge others for whether or not they wear a mask even if they’re trying not to.”

Most students are no longer wearing a mask in the building for the first time since March 2020.

“It’s so nice seeing everyone’s faces again,” junior Sarah Shalala said. “I feel so much happier and am in just such a good mood.”

Some underclassmen are pleased with masks being optional because it is the first time they have been in the building without one.

“I am really happy that there is an option to have no masks,” sophomore Alexandra Mower said. “As sophomores, we haven’t been able to experience school with no masks, and it is truly more comfortable to not wear one.”

The ruling has sparked conflict across the Chicagoland area as schools struggle with the verdict. At Vernon Hills High School and Libertyville High School, as part of District 128, mask requirements remain in place. The decision prompted dozens of students to arrive at school on Monday maskless and stage a walkout when they were told to either put on a mask or leave.

I absolutely have concerns about being judged for my choice of whether or not to wear a mask to school.

— Senior Catherine Morris

Some schools, including those in Hinsdale/Clarendon Hills School District 181, designated Monday as an emergency day, canceling in-person classes. A remote-learning day and a Board of Education meeting was scheduled in order to curb disruptions and be as thorough as possible while reviewing the implications of the case, a statement issued by the District said.

District 181 decided to go mask-optional after demonstrators arrived at the District’s headquarters in anti-mask protests.

While masks were also declared optional at LFHS, some are opting to continue wearing one. 

Junior Tally Feingold is choosing to wear a mask to protect others, she said, and help everyone feel safe at school.

“I know many students, teachers, and students’ family members who are considered ‘high risk,’ and I want to do anything I can to help those people feel safe and protected,” Feingold said.

Freshman Nora Sharman continues to wear a mask and said that those who choose not to are being careless.

“It’s inconvenient for them to wear a mask and it’s not fun, but there are people who can’t get the vaccine and don’t have the option to stay safe like other people do,” she said. “People who have the option are being irresponsible.”

Some staff like English teacher Mrs. Carolyn Konz will continue to wear a mask, but respect the choices of other teachers and students.

“I will continue to wear one so that my students and colleagues feel more comfortable,” Konz said. “Honestly, I loved seeing my kids’ faces; I missed them.”

Some students find themselves somewhere in the middle, choosing to mask in some classes but not in others.

“I wore a mask in some classes today because I understood that some teachers and their loved ones are at risk,” sophomore Addison Schwan said. “When I wasn’t wearing one, it was weird because I’ve only ever gone to LFHS with a mask on.”

While the decision has affected some protocols, all other District mitigation measures  remain in place.

While the school is unable to enforce close contact quarantines, students and staff will still be sent a notification if they come in contact with someone who is positive along with recommendations regarding isolation and symptom monitoring.

Additionally, individuals returning from a COVID positive case after 5 days must wear a mask on days 6-10.

Masks are also still required in the nurse’s office and on school buses.

In response to the ruling, the State has filed a stay, which could suspend the Temporary Restraining Order on Pritzker’s mandate. The State has also filed an appeal with the 4th District Appellate Court.

The school could reverse their decision, and if the appeal is granted, Pritzker’s mask mandate could apply to LFHS once again.