MMC STAFF (TOMAHAWK LEADER EDITOR)
TOMAHAWK – Following a Wednesday, May 5, assembly allowing students to voice their opinions on the School District of Tomahawk’s mask policy, roughly 40 students walked out of school and staged a protest against the inability for students to choose whether or not to wear face coverings on campus.
The Wednesday protest was the largest of demonstrations that had taken place each day last week.
The district’s policy requiring all students, staff, and visitors to wear masks on school grounds has been in place since the beginning of the school year.
Leemaree Schaeffer said her son, who was among the students who started the protests, formed a group on the app Snapchat discussing the policy.
“He and a couple friends were just really tired of what was going on at school,” Schaeffer stated.
The protests began on Monday, May 3, when Schaeffer’s son and two of his friends walked into the school building without masks. Five students participated on Tuesday, May 4. Protests also took place on Thursday and Friday last week.
After the assembly on Wednesday, May 5, roughly 40 students walked out of the building in protest. As many as 60 students were demonstrating as of that afternoon.
Schaeffer said local businesses and members of the community visited the demonstrations and made donations.
“The community has been amazing with the support, so we are just really grateful for the community jumping in and supporting our kids,” she stated.
Schaeffer called the protests “a really good thing for these kids.”
“They’re learning how to stand up for themselves and use their voices,” she stated.
A roughly 23-and-a-half-minute video of the assembly was posted on YouTube on Wednesday, May 5. The video appears to have been filmed by a student from within the audience.
At the beginning of the assembly, High School Principal Ryan Huseby explained that the goal of the assembly was to offer students the opportunity to voice their “thoughts and opinions” on the district’s mask policy.
Huseby told the students that the district’s policies are implemented by the school board, in conjunction with District Administrator Terry Reynolds. Huseby said he and High School Associate Principal Stacy Bolder planned to listen to the students and provide the information obtained during the assembly to Reynolds.
One student said she had been told at the beginning of the school year that a student could forego wearing a mask after obtaining documentation from a doctor confirming a medical condition. She said she obtained the documentation, but was told by the district that she had to continue wearing a face covering, although she said she was given permission to remove the mask in the bathroom. The students’ parents were unable to switch her to virtual learning because the deadline to do so had passed, the student said.
The student pointed to the Founding Fathers and the students’ right to protest.
“We were controlled by England, and now we’re being controlled by masks,” she stated.
A second student read a letter to Reynolds and district staff regarding the mask policy the district “inflicted upon us (students).”
“Some students have been fearful of speaking up and taking action on this matter,” she stated. “The double standards, the manipulation, and verbal abuse that is taking place in our school is wrong. It needs to stop.”
She said students “have been threatened with arrest for peaceful protesting.” She also said she has asthma and is among students who “need to take their mask off consistently to breathe,” adding that when she does, she is “scolded” and “yelled at,” calling it “verbal abuse.”
“Masks are causing anxiety, depression, breathing disorders, and so many more issues on our bodies,” she stated. “When does it get to be our choice? … Those most at risk to COVID can choose to get the vaccine to protect themselves. It’s time to let those least at risk to choose for ourselves which is worse: not being able to breathe because of a mask, or getting COVID.”
A third student said he felt “absolutely cheated out of the high school experience with everything COVID has done,” noting that the blame did not rest with the district because the pandemic was unexpected.
“There was a time that (masks) were appropriate, but I think that time is over,” he stated. “Let’s get back to having a fun, loving high school experience.”
“For the people who are scared and who feel the need to protect themselves, they have the option to wear their mask,” a fourth student said. “They have that option. They have the choice. For the people who aren’t scared anymore and want to go on with their lives, the people who do have anxiety attacks or breathing issues, the people that need to be free of the mask, we don’t have a choice. And we should, because the State of Wisconsin is allowing everyone to have a choice, so how come we don’t have that choice?”
Reynolds preparing statement
Reynolds said on Friday, May 7, that he was preparing a statement regarding the assembly and protest, but it had not been made available as of press time on Monday, May 10.