St. John’s Lutheran School in Lombard begins mask exemptions for students amid staff protests and resignations – CBS Chicago
LOMBARD, Ill. (CBS) — Dozens of masks disappeared from a primary school in the western suburbs.
Mask exemptions for students at St. John’s Lutheran School in Lombard began this week and have driven around a sixth of the school’s staff out of the door in protest. CBS 2 political investigator Dana Kozlov found a loophole that makes it legal – for now.
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Tuesday marked the second day of widespread exemptions at St. John Lutheran School. Parents and a former staff member said at least 30 families had completed a “religious conscience waiver” form so their students would not have to wear masks.
This represents over 10% of St. John’s student population.
“We have to keep our families strong, and we all think and feel what we do and we are entitled to it,” mother Sheryn Panfil said. “But I’m not pushing one way or the other.”
“I think it’s really – it’s kind of left to the family; parents,” added mother Kara Zurich.
It is the culmination of a two-month debate, often divisive within the small private school community. Some families left and five staff members even resigned in protest, saying they felt their concerns were not being respected.
The latest was a fifth grade teacher who this week sent a heartfelt note to families announcing her departure. She wrote in particular: “Many factors contributed to my decision, many of which involve the events and decisions of the past few months. I won’t go into details because I don’t think it’s ethically right to do so, but ultimately, even though it breaks my heart to admit, I feel God calling me to put my health, that of my family and those close to me who are at the forefront in this field.
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“They did their best to support and stay as strong as possible, and had to do what was best for them,” Panfil said.
St. John’s Lutheran Church senior pastor Dan Wegrzyn even discussed mask exemptions at the church last Sunday.
“So we communicated several times with our board of directors; with our elders, talked with doctors and sought out outside legal counsel who informed us that this was a legal right in the state of Illinois,” Wegrzyn told congregants.
But spokespersons for Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois State Board of Education point out that there is no religious exemption for the mask mandate.
A school attorney said conscience laws allow for the exemption. Governor Pritzker has signed legislation to close this prevention gap, but it doesn’t go into effect until June 1.
St. John’s attorney didn’t say what the school would do when that loophole closed, nor did the State Board of Education.
Here is the full statement from attorney Sally Wagenmaker:
“St. John’s Lutheran adheres to the Governor’s current mask mandate for schools. We believe it is prudent to continue to address all concerns related to the health of our school community and to comply with all applicable legal requirements. Religious or medical exemptions to the mask mandate are available under disability and conscience laws.
“We don’t want school masking to be a divisive issue. So we encouraged everyone to have love, care and empathy for those who hold all points of view, even if they are diametrically opposed to others, in accordance with biblical standards. Our goal remains to teach and make disciples in person every day. We want to be a unified community striving to achieve this goal together.
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The attorney also included this directive to Kozlov: “Furthermore, you are hereby requested not to enter the church and school premises, which are private property, and not to speak, harass, intimidate, or otherwise interfere with ministry staff, children, parents, or related operations. This prohibition also applies to any media colleagues you may work with. You may contact me with any other request as legal counsel for the Church and the school, by e-mail.”