On Feb. 22 the school boards of Lyons Township High School District 204 and Lyons-Brookfield Elementary School District 103 voted to no longer require students and staff to wear face masks in school, though masks are still “recommended.”

The new policy goes into effect at LTHS on Feb. 28 and has already gone into effect at District 103. Both votes were unanimous.

The shift to mask-recommended status started picking up steam across Illinois when Sangamon County Circuit Court judge issued a temporary restraining on Feb. 4 prohibiting enforcement of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive order requiring face masks in public schools.

That order only applied to certain districts, none of them local, but a move to shift mask policies intensified after the Illinois General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) refused to extend some COVID mitigations in schools and became even more widespread when an appellate court panel ruled that the state’s appeal of the Sangamon County decision was moot because of JCAR’s vote. Pritzker is appealing the appellate court ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court.

The appellate court said local school districts can set their own masking rules. As of Feb. 28, Riverside Elementary School District 96 will be the only school district in the Landmark coverage area still requiring face masks. However, the District 96 school board will reevaluate that policy at its March 2 meeting.

Some other west suburban districts, such as River Forest School District 90 and Oak Park School District 97, are keeping their mask requirements in place, for now.

The face mask issue has been particularly divisive at LTHS. For the entire school year, fervent opponents of mask requirements have loudly criticized the school board and administration in public comments during school board meetings.

After the Sangamon County ruling, more than 100 students at LTHS refused to wear masks. They were required to leave their classes and congregate in the cafeteria, the North Campus Reber Center or offices. By this week the number of students refusing to wear mask has apparently dwindled to just a handful.

At the Feb. 22 school board meeting attended by approximately 150 people, LTHS Superintendent Brian Waterman, in announcing his recommendation to change the masking policy, pointed to the JCAR ruling and declining COVID cases among LTHS students and in the community.

Some in the audience applauded when Waterman made his recommendation to the school board.

“This February 28 date would put us in alignment with the state of Illinois’s decision to lift the indoor mask mandate for most public places,” Waterman said. “The other significant change in our recommendation tonight is that students identified as close contacts would no longer be excluded from in person learning. We also believe that building in a transition period will allow us to support our students and our staff and our families in the best way possible during what will be a significant change for many.”

On Feb. 24 teachers were to discuss the change with students and “focus on the importance of respecting personal choice and supporting each other during this transition,” Waterman said.

Students at Riverside-Brookfield High School no longer are required to wear face masks. Although RBHS is officially moving to mask recommended status on Feb. 28, it announced on Feb. 21 that this week will be a transitional week in where masks will be strongly recommended, but not required.