It’s been a tough months at Lyons Township High School. The face mask issue has been a flashpoint during public comment at school board meetings, which have regularly featured anti-mask speakers harshly criticizing the school board.
On Feb. 8 in the wake of a downstate court ruling that threw the governor’s executive order on masking in question, more than 100 students refused to wear masks and were forced to leave classrooms, some of them chanting when confined to the school’s cafeteria. A rally was held afterward at school, attended by students and adults.
Also in February, according to a report on Channel 7 news, a Black LTHS sophomore received racist responses to a Civil Rights-era photo she posted with the message “Happy Black History Month and don’t forget to keep advocating for Black lives” on Snapchat.
That racist response a few days later sparked a student protest against racism in the hallways of the school’s South Campus that created enough concern for the South Campus to be briefly placed on soft lockdown.
At the Feb. 22 meeting of the school board, which was attended by more than 100 people, District 204 Superintendent Brian Waterman made a public statement addressing the incidents.
“The divisiveness, the disrespect, the racism, the examples of anger in the form of harassment is not what we what we are accustomed to seeing at LT,” Waterman said. “And, quite frankly, the anger directed towards schools in our country has never been at the level that it is at now. Emotions are raw, people are hurting emotionally and this negatively impacts every single person: staff, parents, community and, of course, most importantly, our students.”
Waterman said all members of the LTHS community must respect each other.
“The last few weeks remind us that it’s more important than ever to double down on kindness, on compassion and on tolerance,” Waterman said. “We need to double down on cultivating an environment that’s conducive to learning and as adults to double down on making sure that our actions, not our words, but our actions, send a message of hope to our community and a message of respect to every single person we interact with.”
Molly Voigt, a 17-year-old senior from LaGrange Park has personally experienced the rancor – which often has come from adults — at LTHS.
“It’s been a little bit crazy,” Voigt said.
Voigt, who attended the Feb. 22 school board meeting, got a taste of the anger during the school board meeting. Voigt said was wearing a mask and sitting in the Reber Auditorium watching the meeting when a man who was not wearing a face mask directed an obscene gesture toward her.
“I actually had grown adults in there flipping me off,” Voigt said about the Feb. 22 school board meeting. “I just looked over and there’s this man who is sticking out his tongue at me and he starts giving me the middle finger, and I was just sitting there normally. I didn’t say anything. It was a little bit, like, wow.”