A group protesting mask-wearing policies outside Glen Ellyn District 41′s administration building has drawn the ire of parents who say its members are harassing students and school employees as they arrive at neighboring Forest Glen Elementary School each morning.
But one person supporting the protesters disputed the claims.
Several parents complained during a Glen Ellyn village board meeting Monday that protesters have been slinging insults. Several said they heard protesters taunting grade schoolers by calling them “Hitler youth.”
They asked village officials to step in, saying they are concerned about students’ safety and mental well-being at the crosswalk near the intersection of Elm and Main streets, where protesters have been gathering daily.
None of the protesters were at Monday’s meeting.
Former Republican state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton, who has been promoting school protests against mask use in her emailed newsletter, said it’s the Glen Ellyn parents who have been hurling insults at the protesters.
District 41 school board President Robert Bruno has written a letter asking Glen Ellyn officials to create a “buffer zone” between those walking to school and the protesters. He also indicated the school district might seek an injunction in court to keep the protesters at bay.
Village Attorney Greg Mathews said the village is limited in what it can do.
“It asks us to provide assistance that I don’t feel we can provide completely because of the Constitution and the rights of free speech and assembly that individuals have, that are part of the foundation of this country,” Mathews said.
He said he isn’t too optimistic about being able to move the protesters from the school intersection. The village does have one or two police officers stationed at that corner daily, he said.
Bruno disagreed with Mathews’ legal assessment.
“Our attorney has advised us that our request to the village to increase safety measures for our children in that intersection is clearly permissible under the law,” he said. “A child’s walk to school should not be subject to threat, intimidation and menace.”
Parents say the protesters often are waving posters and flags at passing cars, calling out to the drivers to honk their horns, creating a dangerous distraction.
“I’ve heard offensive, crude and inappropriate language directed at children and their parents, including a sign that reads in large white letters, ‘masks equal muzzles,’” said Erica Nelson, a Wheaton resident and former District 41 school board member.
Nelson said video recordings of children have been posted on the local online bulletin board Nextdoor, with the comment, “The dog is wearing a mask.”
That kind of speech “does not reflect the values of this community,” she said.
“If freedom of speech is protected in our democracy, the children and parents who are targeted by the comments, photos and recording of their daily walk to school deserve the freedom to do so without further emotional stress,” Nelson said.
Ives said she’s not involved with organizing the Glen Ellyn protest and hasn’t been attending daily. In her Sept. 12 newsletter, she asks readers to “join the dedicated group of parents who are standing up for parental rights in Glen Ellyn” and gives the time and address for the demonstrations.
Masks in schools have been required by the state of Illinois since Aug. 4.
Ives said there has been “misinformation” spread about the protesters.
“There is video evidence of the other side literally dropping swear words left and right,” she said. “Those guys are unhinged.”
Glen Ellyn resident Karin Daly said she has been standing outside the school most mornings acting as “a human shield” for school families against the protesters.
Two crossing guards and a police officer also are there to escort students, Daly said.
“I think actually we’re all failing our children in keeping them safe from a mental health perspective in terms of having to witness this, but also just for their physical safety,” she said.
Officials said attorneys for the village and school district will try to work out some solution to de-escalate the situation.