For the first time this year, Grace Kampf Bucholtz didn’t grab a disposable mask Monday when she walked into William Fremd High School in Palatine – a choice for which she said she was later threatened by a student wielding a knife.
Fremd just revised its policy to make masks optional, due to a temporary restraining order filed by a central Illinois judge late last week that prevents more than 140 Illinois school districts from requiring masks in their buildings.
The ruling Friday evening by Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow specifically applies to those plaintiffs, but other districts are no longer abiding by Pritzker’s executive order out of the belief the ruling prohibits its enforcement.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul on Monday filed motions to appeal and to stay, which would prevent Grischow’s order from being imposed.
“Usually when you move for a (temporary restraining order) it’s something that’s just been done and it’s going to irreparably harm you in the moment,” Raoul told WTTW News. “The reality is these mask mandates have been in place for months and based on the evince put forth, which was unconverted, it would support maintaining them going forward. That’s why the judge’s decision baffles me and that’s why we motioned for a stay and filed an appeal of it today,”
Meanwhile, superintendents and school boards are scrambling, families and teachers are worried, parents and students are protesting, and Kampf Bucholtz is scared to go back to class.
The senior said she was at her desk when another student said aloud that with the new mask rules, he didn’t want anyone going near him.
“And he aggressively goes ‘you especially you’ and I go ‘uh’ and I like freak out of a second. And then he pulls out a knife and then he points it at me,” she said. “And he says ‘you’ and I’m freaking out. And he literally goes like this (points at her) with a knife with me, and I immediately get my teacher because that was scary. And I noticed when I looked around, I was the only one not wearing a mask and that’s why he targeted me.”
She said her teacher immediately got help and the other student was removed from the classroom.
It’s the first time things have come to near violence but she said the debate over masks has stoked tempers and fears, of those who believe they should be required and those like her who believe it should be a personal choice.
“Definitely everyone has strong opinions, there’s so much hatred in our school,” she said. “You get judged if you’re wearing a mask, you get judged if you’re not wearing a mask. It’s absolutely chaos at school. It’s just hatred on hatred. It’s just people bullying each other.”
Meanwhile, Mateo Farzaneh sent his third-grader to school Monday morning in Lincolnwood, worried that she wouldn’t keep her mask on.
Farzaneh said his family has been particularly cautious about the coronavirus given that he has a concerning health condition; he’s likewise mindful of teachers’ safety, and believes that masks should be mandatory as long as health experts say there’s a need.
Lincolnwood District 74 is not a plaintiff in the suit, and Grischow did not certify the case as a class action, but the Lincolnwood district wrote parents that the “court order is in effect and Governor Pritzker’s Executive Orders regarding facial masking are not” so at this point masks are recommended, not required.
Farzaneh said he had a careful conversation with his daughter about the need to keep her nose and mouth covered with a mask, even if other kids take off their masks.
“Mostly concerned and worried about peer pressure, because she wants to fit in like all the other 8-year-olds and we didn’t want her to feel pressured by students in her class that she doesn’t need to wear the mask, because their adults might have told them something different,” he said. “So it was a confusing time last night and early this morning there was a little bit of crying and concerns that no parents want to see, obviously.”
Pritzker on Monday morning said the order from the Sangamon County judge “cultivates chaos” for parents, children and school leaders across the state.
“Judge Raylene Grischow’s ruling is out of step with the vast majority of legal analysis in Illinois and across the nation,” Pritzker said Monday at an unrelated press event in Chicago. “Most importantly, it constrains the ability of the named school districts to maintain safe in-person learning requirements. As if kids need a minute more of remote learning.”
Grischow issued the temporary restraining order late Friday in a case brought by a group of parents and teachers, and the ruling affects students in 146 school districts across the state. In her ruling, Grischow said those parties would “suffer irreparable injury” if she were to not issue the order.
“This court acknowledges the tragic toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken, not only on this state but throughout the nation and globe,” the judge wrote in her order. “Nonetheless, it is the duty of the courts to preserve the rule of law and ensure that all branches of government act within the bounds of the authority granted under the Constitution.”
Among the districts named in the lawsuit is Chicago Public Schools, but district officials have said they will continue their COVID-19 safety protocols, including universal masking by students and staff, as well as vaccination and testing requirements for staff members.
As Pritzker noted Monday, school districts like CPS who have come to an agreement with their labor unions over COVID-19 mitigations must continue to follow public health requirements, regardless of Grischow’s order.
Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said the union is prepared to defend its safety agreement with the city and is ready to fight alongside CPS and Chicago leaders to do so.
“Let’s go fight the real bully,” she said at a separate press conference Monday. “We are willing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Mayor (Lori) Lightfoot and (CPS CEO) Pedro (Martinez) against who really are harming our school community.”
The governor maintains that both the judge and the parties who brought the lawsuit have misread a law regarding due process rights for those who have been ordered to wear masks.
“As for this specific case, poor legal reasoning should not take one of our most effective tools off the table,” Pritzker said. “We want to make sure that we are getting an appeal heard as soon as possible so that we can, you know, rid ourselves of the fog of the, frankly, not good decision by the Sangamon County Court.”