Daily Southtown

D123 parents protest mask mandate

Many unmasked or wearing coverings incorrectl­y, held signs to unmask kids

- By Jesse Wright and Karen Ann Cullotta

Dozens of angry parents and residents turned out Tuesday to the Oak Lawn-Hometown Elementary District 123 Board meeting to protest the district’s continued enforcemen­t of a mask mandate.

Several parents, many unmasked or wearing face coverings incorrectl­y, displayed signs with some variation of “unmask the kids,” while a man wore a sweatshirt that read Army, under which he’d written in black marker “of mom and dad.”

“Masking is about power and control,” said resident Mike Handley, who argued that neighborin­g states, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan don’t have mask mandates.

Handley’s comments echoed a common theme that masks were part of some larger conspiracy of government overreach and

personal gain for state’s leadership.

“You still push vaccinatio­n clinics, and you still won’t make it mask optional,” Handley said. “There are only two options available, you’re either corrupt or cowardly.”

Residents were allowed four minutes of speaking time each, though collective­ly they spoke for about an hour, 30 minutes longer than the usual public comment time.

Among those in attendance was Rob Cruz, who was ousted from the Oak Lawn High School District 229 Board last month when board members, citing his suing the district and filing his own lawsuit claiming he spoke for the board, said he violated board policy.

Cruz said children aren’t resilient and cannot handle wearing a mask. He also said children are acting out and that there’s been an increase of school bomb threats, a claim District 229 officials have dismissed as being without evidence.

District 229, meanwhile, is continuing its mask mandate at Oak Lawn Community High School.

The District 123 meeting came days after Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Grischow issued a temporary restrainin­g order against Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s mask mandate. Several school districts and parents had sued the governor, arguing the mandates violate due process. Parents and some legal experts argue every school district could ignore the mandates due to the restrainin­g order.

While nobody spoke in person to defend the mandates, some parents did submit emailed comments supporting the mask mandates. Board Preisent Brian Nichols read those into the record.

Queen of Martyrs

At nearby Queen of Martyrs Catholic School in Evergreen Park, parents and students were reeling with shock and sadness Tuesday afternoon upon learning fromthat Principal Jacob “Doc” Mathius that he had had allegedly been placed on paid administra­tive leave for declining to comply with the Archdioces­e of Chicago’s mandatory masking policy at its schools.

“Before I lose administra­tive rights to this platform, I want to let you know that I have been placed on paid administra­tive leave until the Office of Catholic Schools leadership officially acts ... presumably to terminate me,” Mathius wrote in a Tuesday letter to parents.

“While it is many times not easy to do what you believe is right, it always makes it easier if it comes from the heart. To that end, my decision was easy, and my course was clear,” Mathius said., adding:

“Please keep your eye on the ball as you move forward. I am not the central figure here... our kids are. This has much less to do with me than it does to what we love best; our kids, our school, and our parish.”

Andrea Gertonson, a mother of five children, three of whom attend Queen of Martyrs, said Mathius — who arrived at the south suburban school last year after serving four decades at Brother Rice High School — was beloved by students and parents.

“He’s been so good for our school, because the kids don’t want to disappoint him,” Gertonson said. “He respects them, and they respect him.”

A spokeswoma­n from the Archdioces­e of Chicago declined to comment on Mathius. The archdioces­e announced late Tuesday masks would be optional beginning Thursday at some schools.

Public health data

Public health data indicate mask mandates may work at keeping COVID-19 at bay.

According to the Mayo Clinic’s public data, Indiana and Wisconsin do have higher rates of COVID-19 positive tests than Illinois. On Feb. 7, the clinic’s website showed Illinois had a positive test rate of below 8%, whereas Wisconsin had a near 18% positive test rate and Indiana had a 28% positive test rate.

The level of support for mask mandates among parents or residents nationwide is unclear. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention support school mask mandates.

Several public polls reaching back over the past year have shown school mask mandates have support. This month, Chalkbeat, an education news website, published a roundup of national polling over the past year and reported no national poll with a majority of parents opposing the mandates.

Jesse Wright is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown. Karen Ann Cullotta is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune.

 ?? ANDREW BURKESTEVE­NSON/ CHICAGO TRIBUNE ?? A parent holds up a sign Tuesday during the Oak LawnHometo­wn District 123 meeting, advising against masking elementary school students wear masks.
ANDREW BURKESTEVE­NSON/ CHICAGO TRIBUNE A parent holds up a sign Tuesday during the Oak LawnHometo­wn District 123 meeting, advising against masking elementary school students wear masks.

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