STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY MIA HILKOWITZ

This Tues., Aug. 17, several Lakota families gathered at the Lakota Local School District Offices located at 5572 Princeton Rd to protest the recent announcement that masks will be required for all students during in-person learning. 

This announcement was delivered by email to staff, parents, and students at 3:00 p.m. Mon. Aug. 16. Superintendent Matthew Miller stated that the district will now require that face masks be worn indoors for all students and staff, preschool through 12th grade, regardless of vaccination status. 

“We want our students to stay in school, in person,” Miller said. “With very few exceptions, students in our early childhood and elementary schools are not eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine yet. While vaccination rates among teens are on the rise in our county, a significant number are still unvaccinated and requiring face coverings is the best way to protect all of our students and staff.” 

Upon hearing this announcement, Lakota parent Alicia Davis wanted to take action. Davis, whose son attends Woodland Elementary School, says that revealing the new requirement two days before the start to the 2021-22 school year added extra frustration for her and her family. 

“The reason I am most livid is because they waited until 48 hours before school to make this announcement. We would have put our kids in another school,” Davis told Spark. “We would have had the opportunity to make other decisions for our family, but [the district] took that opportunity away from us.” 

Within 40 minutes of the initial announcement Monday afternoon, Davis and her husband created a petition on Change.Org calling for the reversal of required masking, however the website was shortly taken down after receiving 40 signatures. By 5 p.m. that night, the parents had developed their own website, nomaskslakota.com. Currently, the petition linked to this website has over 803 signatures. 

“Last year, we just kind of took it,” East parent Sarah Webster told Spark. “They took us all off guard and we didn’t resist, but they aren’t going to take us off guard this time. We are going to resist, and we are not going to let this happen to our children for another school year.” 

At the protest Tuesday morning, more than 17 parents and students stood on grass bordering the District Offices, holding signs and American flags, urging drivers to honk in support of their cause. These signs read messages including “Put our kids wellness first. We won’t back down,” “Lakota, Unmask our Children,” and “We the People Demand Medical Freedom.” Additionally, Davis and Webster both said that they are encouraging their students to politely refuse to wear a mask on the first day of school. 

“I have told my son, simply say ‘no thank you,’” Davis said. “We are standing up for our children that may not necessarily have a voice or the strength to use that voice for what they want. We are standing up to make sure we have the freedom of choice when it comes to our bodies.” 

In a recent survey, Lakota reported that 49% of parents and students believe that face coverings should be optional for all grades, 48% believe that face coverings should be required for all or some grades, and 3% are unsure.

According to the Lakota Back-to-School webpage, students who are not wearing a mask will be given a disposable mask upon arrival at school. If the student refuses to wear a mask, the case will be considered an insubordination as with any other sections of the student code of conduct, and will face disciplinary action by school administration. Insubordination, labeled as a Level II Offense is subject to disciplinary responses including but not limited to: parental contact, behavioral probation, detention, exclusion from extracurricular activity, mediation and in-school suspension

While the protest at District Offices ended around 10:30 a.m., Davis is encouraging families to attend the Lakota Local School Board Meeting on Aug. 23 to voice their concerns on the in-school mask mandate.