Student protest calls for end to mask rule
Group of students, parents call on district to make mask wearing optional
A group of Medford high school students and their parents are calling on offi cials to end a mask requirement at the school.
A group of about 15 students held a walk-out from the school on Friday morning in protest of the mandatory mask rule which has been in place since the beginning of the school year. The number of students eventually grew to about 25 and made their way to the Hwy 13 and 64 intersection located about two miles from the high school after being told they had to leave school grounds or face a fine for trespassing.
The students continued to demonstrate at the intersection carrying signs, American flags and urging motorists to honk to show their support. The students also had a petition for community members to sign to urge the school board to take action and make the masks optional at the high school. Other signs urged people to attend the April 26 school board meeting and voice their opinions about the mask rules.
Following a lengthy debate at a special meeting on April 7, school board members voted to loosen restrictions on the mask mandate at the elementary school level but keep them in place for the high school and middle school levels. The action largely matches the mask rules the district had approved last summer prior to the governor imposing a statewide mask mandate under an emergency rule.
“We should have a choice,” said Sara Hamm, the Medford Area Senior High School junior who organized Friday’s protest. Hamm said they are calling on the school district to make wearing masks optional for students. She said they did not object to people wearing masks if they wanted to, but felt people should have the choice on wearing them or not.
Public health officials have supported masks being worn indoors and in areas where people cannot social distance as a way to reduce the airborne transmission of COVID-19. Hamm said she does not have a problem if people choose to wear masks, but feels that those who do not want to should have that option, she said it is a matter of opinion if wearing the mask prevents other people from getting COVID-19. Her comments were echoed by fellow student protestor Dalton Waide a sophomore at MASH.
“We are old enough to make our own choices,” Waide said. “The school should start listening to us.”
Fellow student protestor Jedrae Kohn, a 10th grader at MASH, said that the classrooms are set up to keep students six feet apart, which is what the CDC and health officials say is necessary to prevent the spread of the virus. “We should have a choice,” Kohn said, of wearing masks.
Hamm explained that the protest had begun at the school but the students were told they had to leave the school property or face trespassing charges. Earlier last week, school administration met with each grade level of students at the high school about the possible consequences for holding a protest during the school day. Additionally, a letter from principal Jill Lybert and assistant principal Andy Guden was emailed to all MASH students, parents and guardians detailing the consequences including the potential for in-school or out of school suspensions as well as the potential for law enforcement to get involved.
The letter stated: “We want to make sure you have all the information so you make a decision that is right for you.
You absolutely have the right to voice your concerns regarding the mask decision. However, your actions during the school day, according to school board policy, may result in consequences.
• If you come to school on Friday and at any point don’t go to class or walk out of class that is considered a “skip” and you are subject to a fine of $200.50. This is no different than if you “skip” lunch or study hall on any day.
• If you have a pre-excused on Friday, then you should not be on school grounds. If you stay on school grounds you will be asked to leave. If you choose not to leave, law enforcement will be contacted which also may result in a $200.50 fine.
• If you choose to not wear a mask, just like any day this year, you will be sent home with an out-of-school suspension.
• Co-curricular participants (athletics, theater, science olympiad, Raiderette, band, choir, clubs, etc.) may face additional consequences for violating school policies.
Your petition can be circulated and it is a great way for your voice to be heard. However, any bullying of other students for signing or not signing the petition will have additional consequences. Everyone has the right to their opinion and we must be respectful.”
Mask rules have been in place in Medford and other area schools since the start of the school year. Even prior to the governor’s emergency declaration and order, area schools, including Medford, had established mask rules. The governor’s order superseded those rules.
On March 31 the Wisconsin Supreme Court found that the governor exceeded his authority in issuing the continuing emergency declarations without the legislature’s involvement. The ruling did not address the medical benefits of wearing the masks as a way to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but specifically addressed the power of the governor to order the masks to be worn.
“The question in this case is not whether the governor acted wisely; it is whether he acted lawfully. We conclude he did not,” Justice Brian Hagedorn wrote for the 4-3 majority.
With the end of the statewide order, it was left up to local authorities and school districts to decide what they should do going forward. While some counties and municipalities have imposed their own mask orders, Taylor County has not.
According to county statistics, as of Monday there have been 2,083 confirmed cases in the county with 45 people currently in isolation/quarantine. There have been 32 deaths associated with COVID- 19 in the county.
The agenda for the April 26 meeting of the Medford Area Public School District school board has mask requirements as an agenda item.