Student mask exemption at private school prompts staff resignations

people throwing away protective masks
Photo credit Getty Images Stock

LOMBARD, Ill. (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Some students in the western suburbs are taking advantage of a mask exemptions as a result of a comment made by a church leader over the weekend. The exemption is also pushing teachers out the door.

St. John’s Lutheran School in Lombard introduced mask exemptions for students this week, and parents said at least 30 families are taking part, which accounts for more than 10 percent of the student population.

“We need to keep our families strong, and we all think and feel how we do and we’re entitled to that,” parent Sheryn Panfil told CBS 2. “But I’m not pushing one way or the other.”

Some families have left the private school, and five staff members have even resigned in protest, saying they felt their concerns were not respected.

Despite a statewide mask mandate, a conscience law loophole allows the exemption.

St. John’s Senior Pastor Dan Wegrzyn made mention of it during his Sunday service.

“We interfaced with our governing board multiple times; talked with our elders, talked with doctors, and sought outside legal counsel who advised us that this is a legally allowable right in the State of Illinois,” he said.

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed a law closing that loophole, but it doesn’t go into effect until June 1.

The following 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 health-related concerns for our school community and to comply with all applicable legal requirements. Religious or medical exemptions to the mask mandate are available under disability and right of conscience laws.

“We do not want school masking to be a divisive topic. We therefore have encouraged all to have love, care, and empathy for those with all perspectives, even if diametrically opposed to others, consistent with Biblical standards. Our objective remains to teach and disciple in-person every day. We desire to be a unified community striving toward that goal together.”

The attorney also included this directive to CBS 2: “Additionally, you are hereby directed to not enter onto the Church and School’s premises, which is private property, and to not speak with, harass, intimidate, or otherwise interfere with any staff, children, parents, or related ministry operations. This prohibition applies equally to any media colleagues with whom you may be working. You may direct any further inquiries to me as the Church and School’s legal counsel, via email.”