The Madness of Mask-Enforcement in Illinois High Schools
Fear-based practices are doing more damage to student health than a respiratory virus ever would
NaTalia Urlacher holding a letter of suspension for refusing to wear a mask on her first day of school at Fremd High School in August. Photo by Sherry Urlacher. Used with permission.
We’ve seen a massive failure of moral courage in Illinois schools when it comes to standing against the Governor’s unlawful school mask mandate. While there are cases of individual or small groups of students saying no, too many adults in positions of power have done very little to resist J.B. Pritzker’s unscientific, anti-child demand that kids cover their faces as a condition of in-person education, sports, & activities.
The Executive Branch has no direct authority over school dress-code requirements, and the Illinois State Board of Education is obstructing students’ progress toward its own Social Emotional Learning standards.
Yet the vast majority Boards of Education & administrators across the state have not only agreed to be the Governor’s handmaidens, but have adopted disturbing enforcement practices, in addition to out- of-school and in-school suspensions.
Lest posterity deny these things actually took place, I’ve documented some at the high school level that strike me as especially mind-boggling. I’ll charitably call this a “tour” of what parents and other school-affiliated folks have sent me — though “Wall of Shame” might be a better term.
Hinsdale Central High School’s daily mask “safety” announcements showcase brainwashing techniques evocative of Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopic short story “Harrison Bergeron”. Take a listen…
HCHS reportedly ceased this practice after it was disclosed on Twitter. (Good.)
A recent, 4-minute Evanston Township High School (ETHS) PSA is even worse, with outgoing Superintendent Eric Witherspoon sounding like he hasn’t made much progress in his own fears about & knowledge of Covid transmission since March 2020. A few soundbites follow:
“We can’t assume that any of the air we may be breathing or emitting does not have virus.”
“The fact is, nasal spritz is one of the most highly-dangerous spreads of all!”
“You do not want to contract this deadly virus in school, that most likely will not have the most serious consequences for you, but if you’re around anybody in your family who maybe has a weakened immune system…nobody wants to pass that off.”
“I know this [announcement] took a lot of your time, but our family and our lives matter a lot.”
What gives Witherspoon the right to subject 3,500+ captive teens to his moral panic? Do school board members condone such rambling, negative messages rolling into students’ day like dark rain clouds? To what end? Surely there are better uses of this well-paid, well-pensioned Superintendent’s time and focus.
Farther north & west, Barrington District 220 developed a “Mask Refusal” progressive discipline chart using the Response to Intervention (RtI) pyramid. Presumably, a similar process is used if a student violates dress code — for example, refusing to remove a baseball cap or put on shoes.
But note the “Tier 2” implication that the uncovered face is a “safety concern,” has a negative “impact on others,” and is a “disruption to the learning environment.” It’s incredible that Barrington leadership apparently believes there are no downsides or objections to teaching kids that their bare faces are dangerous, offensive, and disruptive.
University High School — ironically located in Normal, Illinois — let families know that anyone walking through the halls barefaced is not only unacceptable, but unsafe, *especially* with COVID-19 “cases” on the rise.
With “Best Regards,” Principal Andrea Markert suggests a naked visage in the hallway is on par with public indecency. It’s not “safe” for students who forget their mask to even breech the doorway. Thousands of schools around the country don’t require students to cover their faces, yet Ms. Markert claims masks are a key to keeping in-person school open. #LogicFail
Wheaton North High School gets the award for “Most Oblivious to Conflicting Messages.” A weekly newsletter reminds parents & students about supports for emotional stress & mental health and the rules about covering their faces & heads.
In concert, these reminders are absurd.
“We care about your psychological health, but please make sure the most critical component of your outward identity is 2/3 covered at all times”? Do Wheaton North administrators actually believe forced masking — and being surrounded by masked peers & adults — is socially neutral and academically beneficial? Why?
The school’s Student Handbook gives no explicit reason for disallowing hats & hoods, but a chief reason many schools forbid headwear (besides allegedly deterring gang-related symbolism) is because they’re obstructive to identifying the student & distracting to the learning environment. Pretty sure masks make identifying students more difficult than a hood. Arguably, masks are the most socially and academically disruptive piece of mandating clothing in the history of U.S. education.
Wheaton North is right that the First Amendment (& the Illinois school code) permits religious objections to student dress & appearance requirements, but somehow the requirement to wear a “face covering” isn’t part of dress/appearance and is exempt from the free exercise clause? Huh?
Typing those three bullet points together, in good conscience, is misguided at best.
The state-supported, residential, admissions-based Illinois Math & Science Academy (IMSA) has apparently enlisted spies to ensure 100% compliance with all manner of Covid theatrics
Here’s an email the school recently sent to a group of students & their parents who had been photographed by clandestine operations. (As you read, please remember this is a school that has SCIENCE in its name.)
So, for students’ “well-being,” they must sit in groups of 4, separated by a divider, with masks on when not eating/drinking.
Maybe someone can check on the lunch set-up for prisoners at Joliet Correctional Center — because I’m pretty sure it’s more humane than it is at IMSA.
Finally, we have Elmhurst’s York High School in full First-Amendment Suppression mode. After catching wind of Monday morning peaceful resistance to forced-masking, Principal Shahe Bagdasarian attempts to quell rebellion via email.
In truth, the Governor’s mandate is effectively a very loud wish, and the only thing making Mr. Bagdasarian make teachers make students cover their faces is the Elmhurst 204 school board. At this point, students could make a strong case that mask-wearing is compelled speech, a relic of state-sanctioned religion, and/or an “unreasonable seizure” per the 4th amendment, among other things.
The BOE and Governor would have a very difficult time proving that masklessness is a threat to student health and safety, especially when (a) the order recognizes medical exemptions, (b) both IDPH & the Illinois school code make religious allowances, & (c) thousands of schools around the country are mask-optional.
It’s also downright insulting for the York principal to invite students & parents to “engage” with administrators on forced masking. Why would anyone want to “dialogue” with leaders who clearly believe the Governor’s data-bereft proclamation must be followed, no matter what? The gaslighting in such a conversation would be enough to make everyone in the room pass out.
I recommend a “Mask Drop” strategy, repeatedly daily, if necessary. Students should also show up in droves to the board meeting on December 14th — or petition the board for a special meeting. Surely elected officials in Elmhurst 204 can have at least the same courage as downstate district Vandalia CUSD 203, which has announced that masks will be optional starting December 6th.
Don’t miss what these men are saying: The last exit ramp off the ZeroCovid Highway to Nowhere is here: Everyone age 5+ has access to a vaccine, a range of effective treatments are available, and at least 150 million Americans have been infected. The situation is static, and it’s time to move on.
Otherwise, how much longer can Illinois schools tell themselves forced-masking is necessary, let alone benign? What kind of mental gymnastics are required to dismiss a student’s heartfelt request to stop hindering his social development, or disregard depictions like these that associate masks with feeling sad and trapped?
It’s not hard to imagine future lawsuits against state or local entities for their part in obsessive-compulsive and social-anxiety disorders borne of or exacerbated by forcing an attachment to masks. Mask dependency & addiction — documented in Japan years before the current pandemic — isn’t hard to spot these days among children & teens. (Adults too).
Perhaps some elected & appointed officials tell themselves they’re saving lives by advancing the nearly two-year effort to use mandatory masks (& quarantines) to condition, cajole, and coerce students into a vaccination that has no direct medical benefit to 99.99%+ of kids?
I’m not sure, but history suggests that some adult participants & bystanders in this charade may never able to admit that their actions were both harmful and wrong.
History suggests that some adult participants & bystanders in this charade may never able to admit that their actions were both harmful and wrong.
As months pass, we’ll continue to hear about not only well-intentioned (if fear-driven) missteps like those I’ve exhibited, but also true atrocities committed against children, by schools, in the name of health & safety.
One day, hindsight about 2020 will literally be 20/20, and people will acknowledge what occurred were bona fide “moral crimes,” as special education teacher Alex Gutentag recently put it. The window of opportunity to stand and be counted, like this handful of Illinois school leaders is trying to do, is closing.
No more excuses.
Numerous states and municipalities have given parents & children the respect they deserve by making face coverings a choice.
Time for Illinois’ school boards to do likewise, and end the Mask Madness.