Students in Christina Duve’s fourth-grade class go over an assignment at Ames Elementary School in Riverside in 2021. | FILE

A Brookfield mother says she is considering suing Riverside-Brookfield High School and Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 after her three children were segregated from their classmates on Feb. 7 after refusing to wear face masks in school. 

Cheryl Ferguson said she and her children decided that they would not wear masks in school after a Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge ruled on Feb. 4 that Gov. J.B. Pritzker did not have the authority to require school children and employees to wear masks in schools. That ruling is being appealed.

“This is a decision the family made as whole,” Ferguson told the Landmark in a telephone interview on Monday.

Ferguson’s son, a junior at RBHS, along with another student who also refused to wear a mask in school on Feb. 7 spent the school day in empty offices, where they were allowed to do school work but were not connected to their classes.

“They had a study hall where they were able to social distance, pull their masks down and do asynchronous work for their classes,” said RBHS Superintendent Kevin Skinkis. 

Ferguson also accompanied her two children who attend S.E. Gross Middle School to school on Feb. 7. When she made clear that they would not wear face masks the two middle schoolers were placed in the school’s library and allowed to participate in their classes via Zoom.

“They Zoomed into their classes very similarly as to how they otherwise would have Zoomed had they been on an e-learning day,” said Mark Kuzniewski, the superintendent of Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95.  

Ferguson believes that requiring school children to wear masks all day has been damaging to their mental health.

“The mental and emotional toll it has taken on our kids has been dangerous and scary,” Ferguson said. “It robs them of their freedom and robs them of their innocence and their youth. It installs fear in them.”

Ferguson, who said she and one of her children had contracted COVID-19 and recovered quickly, claims the school districts cannot enforce mask mandates after Sangamon County Circuit Judge Raylene Crischow ruled, in a case that did not involve District 95 or RBHS. Pritzker did not have the legal authority to issue an executive order requiring face masks in schools.

But school administrators say that since RBHS District 208 and District 95 were not party to lawsuit heard in Sangamon County, the ruling does not apply to them. All of the school districts in the Landmark’s coverage area, none of whom were named in the lawsuit, have maintained their mask requirements.

“I think our decision to continue requiring masks is consistent with the advice that our attorneys and every attorney that was on a panel that I participated in [on Feb. 6],” Kuzniewski said. “We were not party to that suit because we’re not a named district and as such we are still required to follow the executive order and, as such, we are continuing with our mitigation strategy until something different changes with the law.”

Kuzniewski said that the two Ferguson kids were the only District 95 students who would not wear a mask in school on Monday. Kuzniewski sent out an email Sunday to parents saying that students who wouldn’t wear a mask would be provided an “alternative learning environment.”

At Park Junior High in LaGrange Park, two students who refused to wear masks were allowed to stay with their classmates but were required to be socially distanced them and their teachers while remaining in their classrooms, according to LaGrange-Brookfield District 102 Superintendent Kyle Schumacher.

No students in Komarek School District 94 or Riverside Elementary School District 96 refused to wear masks on Feb. 7, according to the superintendents of those school districts.

Neither Lyons Township High School Principal Jennifer Tyrrell nor Superintendent Brian Waterman responded Monday to an inquiry from the Landmark, asking whether any LTHS students refused to wear masks on Feb. 7.

Lyons-Brookfield District 103 Superintendent Kristopher Rivera did respond to a phone message from the Landmark.

While most school districts in the Chicago area seem to be sticking with compulsory masking some, such as Arlington Heights District 25 and Hinsdale Elementary School District 181, have made masking optional.

The federal Centers for Disease Control still recommends masking indoors for anyone over the age of 2.

On Monday the New York Times reported that the governor of New Jersey announced that beginning in early March face masks won’t be required in schools and face masks may not be required in Connecticut after Feb. 28. Gov. Ned Lamont recommended that the statewide mask mandate end on that date.

Also on Feb. 7, California Gov. Gavin Newsome announced that the state’s indoor mask mandate would end next week for those who are vaccinated, though the requirement will continue for school children and those who are unvaccinated.

At its regularly scheduled school board meeting on Feb. 10 the District 95 school board will discuss and review recent developments in masking and “next steps.” Kuzniewski told the Landmark that he and other educators have been discussing next steps for some time, before the controversial court ruling on Feb. 4.

“We just really want to begin this conversation with our community,” Kuzniewski said. “It just really hasn’t been brought to a public level, but we’ve been talking about it.” 

Changes could include relaxing rules about adult volunteers in schools and how many people can attend sporting and music events.

Skinkis also said that he is hopeful that COVID mitigation measures can be relaxed soon.

“I think we need to continue to watch the numbers and work with the health department and hopefully things will move in the right direction where we can begin to roll back the mitigations,” Skinkis said.