By Dan Spalding
WARSAW – Opponents of a newly re-instated mask mandate for Warsaw Community Schools held a protest outside the high school Thursday morning, Sept. 9 – one day before the policy becomes effective.
The protest was organized on Snapchat Wednesday, Sept. 8, after the school board voted 5-1 a day earlier to require masks be used in all buildings, according to Jaxson Hastings, a junior at the high school who helped arrange the peaceful demonstration.
The protest began shortly before 7 a.m. at the entrance of the high school where the U.S. flag stands.
About 50 people, including more than a dozen adults, stood near the flag with signs and American flags on display.
The school board embraced the mask mandate plan pitched by Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert, who said the move will allow for a loosening of quarantining policies and will help ensure schools can remain open for in-class learning.
The trade-off came after a new executive order from Gov. Eric Holcomb last week that gave schools more latitude if they require masks.
Two students offered their thoughts Thursday morning while holding signs. Some of the passing cars offered honks of support.
Scout Shilling, a sophomore, was holding a sign that read, “They already make me cover my shoulders, now my face?” She said they feel deceived.
“We feel as if we’ve been lied to since they told us that if we wear a mask responsibly last year that we would be mask free this year,” Shilling said. “I think we’ve been doing a good job of social distancing in the school, but they’re still making us wear a mask and I don’t think that’s fair to the students.”
Payton Sainer, another student, said he doesn’t think the board listened despite a large crowd of opponents who voiced opposition ahead of the vote. “They didn’t even listen to what we had to say at all and decided to go with what they thought best.”
He also said he thinks the governor changed his position and is holding money away from schools that do not establish a mandate.
That idea was aired at the board meeting, but school officials have not suggested there is a financial trade-off for a mask mandate.
Hastings, the organizer, said he believes the two issues are correlated somehow.
Several students said they do not plan to wear a mask Friday.
Hastings said he’s thinking of opting out of school as a result.
Josh Ogden, 43, who has three children in the school system, said he was there to show solidarity with the students.
He said his children will stay home Friday and that he and his wife are looking at alternative options including homeschooling.
He said rising infection rates are “irrelevant” since very few children are dying from COVID-19. He said he thinks the flu is statistically more deadly to children than COVID.
“This is clearly an overreach by the government from the top down. There’s no sense to the choices Holcomb gave us. They tried to back the board into a corner. They gave them a no-win choice,” Ogden said.
Those who voted for the mandate are cowards, he said.
“I can see it in their eyes. They don’t believe the masks are necessary and they don’t believe the masks work. We have all the statistics on it,” he said.
More than one parent, including Ogden, was wearing a shirt with the slogan “Lions Not Sheep.”
“Lions stand up and do what they believe in,” he said.
Natalie Francis, a parent, said wearing masks should be a choice. She came to the protest with her father, Jerry Mullins, and was holding a sign that read, “I will not co-parent with the government.”
She questions the effectiveness of masks. She’s promoting on her Facebook page a National school walkout set for 10 a.m. Friday. That group is opposed to the forced use of masks, testing and vaccines, according to the Facebook post.
“My kids have an immune system and their body will fight it just like any other respiratory virus,” Francis said. “I’d rather my kids live their life as normal as possible than to have a muzzle over their face that does not protect you in the first place.”
Monica Boyer, who has been a critic of some public education policies in the past, attended the protest. She and her husband took their youngest child out of the high school earlier this year over concerns with critical race theory.
“I think the turnout Friday will be really interesting. I’m really excited to see the kids standing up and I’m glad to see it’s student-led,” Boyer said.