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Students, Parents Hold “Walk-In” At Neuqua Protesting Mask Mandate

Friday morning, around thirty students and parents held a peaceful “walk-in,” in front of Neuqua Valley High School regarding Indian Prairie School District 204’s decision to maintain their mask mandate.

Mask Optional Push

“We just want to send the message that it’s time to allow the parents to have a choice and the kids to have the choice and that we want to be heard. There are a lot of people out there that believe in mask optional. We are perfectly fine and in support if people want to wear masks but they should be supportive of kids that don’t want to wear masks as well,” said Tony Bellagamba, parent of a District 204 student.

The protest comes in response to a video posted on Twitter by a Neuqua Valley student claiming that he and other students were removed from school earlier this week for not wearing masks.

“This is the second day in a row me and many others are being kicked out of school unlawfully for not wearing a mask. We organized a peaceful walk out against the school’s unlawful mask mandate,” said Will Wysoglad in the video.

Protesters in attendance sported signs calling for students’ choice in masking. Eventually, parents escorted maskless students to the main entrance where they went into school.

Small Number Of Non-Compliant Students

The district did not comment directly on what happened to the students who came in unmasked on Friday. But in an email, District 204 spokesperson Lisa Barry did say “the number of non-compliant students was very small and hard to estimate due to most students putting on a mask when offered one or students being excluded from class and then choosing to put on a mask and go back to class”

Barry said across the board, the number of students who did not mask up from Monday through Thursday of this week was in the single digits for each of the three school levels, with the majority of kids in compliance. She said those who refuse to comply are either moved to a different area of the school or sent home.

Temporary Restraining Order

Both Districts 203 and 204 were named as defendants in a recent lawsuit against Governor J.B. Pritzker’s statewide mask mandate for schools. In her ruling on the case, a Sangamon County judge placed a temporary restraining order against that mandate.

However both local districts opted to keep their mandate in place. They noted the uncertainty of the legal effect of the order and the “significant confusion” in reports about the order as part of the reason for their decision to continue their status quo in regards to COVID-19 mitigations.

Pritzker recently announced that he plans to lift the indoor mask mandate starting February 28 for many locations. But this does not apply to schools.

“When is the right time? The right time was six months ago. The governor specifically said the kids would not be exempt from the maskless order come February 28, so when would be the day that it’s safe for the kids?” questioned John Parkhurst, parent of a Neuqua Valley High School student.

Exploring Off Ramp From Masking

Monday night’s Indian Prairie School District Board of Education meeting was adjourned early because attendees refused to wear masks. During the rescheduled Tuesday meeting, which was held virtually, District 204 Superintendent, Dr. Adrian Talley said that the school is currently exploring ways that the 34 District 204 schools can off ramp from masking.

A group of students at Naperville Central High School in District 203 held a similar walk-in earlier this week.

Naperville News 17’s Aysha Ashley Househ and Ryan Sartori report.

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