Mask-optional policy change causes confrontation

Mila Brandson, Editor in Chief

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, polarization seems to preside over every aspect of interactions. However, polarization has become strikingly present within the Fremd community following the removal of the school mask mandate.

As a result of a preliminary decision on a lawsuit in which District 211 and 140 other school districts were named defendants, Governor Pritzker’s Executive Orders mandating face masks and exclusion of close contacts were temporarily overturned. On Monday, Feb. 7,  Fremd students returned from a weekend to a mask-optional policy in school. Although the governor is currently challenging the circuit court’s preliminary decision, tension has rippled through Fremd in the weeks after the change.

People on both sides have protested and even threatened violence in response to the new policy in many Illinois schools. Following the updated regulations on Monday, a Fremd senior was allegedly threatened with a knife. 

In an interview with Fox & Friends, the student, who went by Grace, reported that the confrontation occurred during a passing period in a classroom. 

“A student said, ‘no one better get near me,'” Grace said. “He points a knife out, and he lunges at me, and I start freaking out, and I am shaking, and I’m screaming.”

Despite the conflict, the classroom teacher and administration reportedly responded quickly and effectively. 

“The school was very helpful with my safety after the event,” Grace said.

According to The Daily Herald, the student who allegedly pulled out the knife has been arrested by the Palatine Police and will face charges.

Other Illinois schools have experienced similar conflicts. After the court decision, a large protest broke out in St. Viator High School as maskless students and parents disobeyed the school’s mandated mask policy. 

As a part of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the school did not need to alter its Covid-19 precautions in response to the circuit court decision. However, the school completed two days of remote classes on Feb. 8 and 9 before returning to in-person learning with a mask-optional policy. In their most recent update, Chicago Archdiocese Superintendent Greg Richmond explained their plan to mirror the precautions enforced within each school’s area. 

“In schools where masks will be optional, all our other COVID protocols will continue in place just as they are now,” Richmond said.

Despite the recent conflict in the community, the Fremd and District 211 administration has emphasized the need for mutual kindness and respect for others’ choices. In a written statement released to the press, District 211 Director of Communications Erin Holmes expressed this viewpoint. 

“We are grateful for the thousands of students and staff who respected each other’s masking decision and are engaging in a successful and productive school day. We are reiterating the importance of mutual respect as we continue to navigate changing directives,” Holmes said.

In an announcement on Feb. 7, Fremd Principal Mark Langer echoed Holmes and addressed schoolwide expectations for maintaining good character as the community continues to face varying regulations.

“Showing respect is a core value for Vikings,” Langer said. “With this change in the masking requirement, we ask everyone to please demonstrate personal respect for everyone’s individual decision regarding their masking preference, whether it is to wear or not wear a mask.”