Peninsula students protest mask mandate
Students and some parents protested against the state’s school mask mandate on Wednesday at Peninsula High School.
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Holding American flags and signs like “Stop the Masquerade,” “Let Us Breathe” and “No More Mandates,” the group of about 25 gathered shortly before the start of school, stating their intention was to enter the building unmasked when the bell rang.
“I’m here today because I believe that things should be fair. And I believe that people should have a choice and that our rights should not be trampled on,” said Kayla Bonner, a junior at the high school. “To get a little personal with this, I’ve had some mental health issues with it. I’ve had some anxiety and I’ve gotten sick from it. And I’ve had panic attacks and had to leave as I tried to comply in the beginning of the year, but I just decided to do something for me and for others.”
Jacqueline Emory, a Central Washington University student, said she was there to support her sister Ava, a junior who studies online at Peninsula High.
“We’re just speaking about our First Amendment rights as public citizens and just speaking about our beliefs,” Emory said. “It should be our choice and we should choose.”
Jaqueline’s mother, Glenda Emory, said part of the reason Ava studies online is she has difficulty wearing a mask.
“This has become a political fight,” she said. “This has nothing to do with health and safety. There are no studies that support that this is for health and safety. So, it’s time to stop the masquerade and start moving on with our lives.”
“Just allow people to breathe, you know?” Jacqueline said. “Enough is enough.”
A group of students, most of whom were masked, gathered across the driveway in a counter-protest. One student held a small, handwritten sign, “WTF, Bro?” Another sign read, “My body my choice, so abortion is OK!”
The two groups were, for the most part, quiet, no chanting slogans, no yelling at one another.
Principal Joe Potts, who observed and monitored the protest, said this is the first demonstration held on campus regarding any aspect of COVID-19-prevention mandates.
Gov. Jay Inslee last week lifted the outdoor mask mandate for large crowds and said this week he’d be announcing a timeline for potentially lifting the indoor mandate. State schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal has said he endorses lifting the school mask mandate.
“As part of the transition from pandemic to endemic, I believe it is safe and timely to eliminate the statewide masking requirement for students and allow for a decision by local health officials,” Reykdal said in a statement Feb. 9. “I recommend the governor and Department of Health change the guidance to reflect this in the coming weeks.”
Given the likelihood the school mandate will be lifted, students were asked, why protest now? Emory said it was to encourage lifting the indoor mandate. Bonner said, “Because I believe that for too long, the adults up there in the government have been working for themselves and not for the people how they should be.”
Potts weighed in on the protest.
“Let me just begin by saying we respect people’s right to protest peacefully. That is one of the foundations of American democracy,” Potts said. “Secondly, I want to say we care deeply about all of our students. And every student matters and we want what’s best for our students in terms of keeping them safe and healthy.”
Potts said staff and students have had many discussions about masks over the course of the pandemic and that, for the most part, students have willingly complied.
“We have very civil and decent conversations with them, and they are very respectful of us and the rules,” Potts said. “So, we want to make sure that people follow the state guidelines for wearing masks indoors.”
As the bell rang, students from the maskless protest headed toward the entrance without face coverings.
“We have people at the doors, handing masks out and very politely, respectfully asking them to wear a mask,” said Potts, who said as far as he knew, no students had been prohibited from entering.
Members of the media were barred from entering the school.