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February 22, 2024
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Of Unmaskings and Mandates: PRHS Students Protest K-12 Mask Mandate

Of+Unmaskings+and+Mandates%3A+PRHS+Students+Protest+K-12+Mask+Mandate
change.org petition as of Feb. 18

The eyes of the community were on Paso Robles High School on Feb.15, as students were both praised and criticized when 70 Paso Robles High School students protested California’s K-12 mask mandate by refusing to wear their masks. The Feb. 15 protest sparked an online petition to State Representative Jordan Cunningham. The document has over 2000 signatures as of Feb 18.

However, as the media attention fades, student hopes will be in the hands of the Board of Trustees on Feb. 22. The Board Members will have a series of choices to make in regards to the mask mandate at their next board meeting on Feb. 22. They can vote to: Keep mask mandate, wait until the state comes out with a new status quo on Feb. 28, get rid of the requiring of masks in schools via the Roseville resolution, or use a community member suggestion where only medical exemptions can wear a mask. 

California lifted its mask mandate on Feb. 16, with exception of schools. Many parents, students, and citizens were frustrated at the continuation of the school mask mandate, and social media posts began promoting a protest set to take place on Feb. 15.

After discussing logistics the day before, a group of about 15 met in PRHS’s parking lot at 8 A.M to before school to plan what would occur. 

The plan was, for these initial 20 students, to go about their school day as normal, just without a mask. But plans changed as they were escorted to Bearcat Hall by staff.

“I was nervous that there was only going to be a few kids, and that it wasn’t going to make a dent. (I just hoped) it makes the right impact… (and) we get the right things.”

Hunter Breese (12), President of Conservative Club

The number of protesters grew as more students became informed about the event and decided to take action. 
“I initially wasn’t going to do anything because honestly wearing a mask doesn’t bother me,” Senior Reese Hartley said. “But what does bother me is that all the elite liberals in LA got to not wear their masks at the Superbowl, but I still have to wear mine at school just because I don’t have millions of dollars, which makes me feel really unequal and I don’t think that should be respected or condoned by Governor Newsom. So this was my small way of making a stand.”

Senior Sophia Berry shared similar sentiments.

“I feel like you (should) have the right to choose… You do what you believe, as long as you’re respectful.”

Berry (12)

However, with over 70 students joining the cause by nutrition, staff had to reassess their procedures.  

“Initially all of them were pretty committed protesters but, I think by the end of second period, we had a lot of students that were starting to treat it more like a social hour,” PRHS Principal Anthony Overton said. 

He described his role in this event as an administrator who wanted to respect the students’ right to protest, but not enable bad behavior. “I’d like to encourage [students]  that this is your world and you have the absolute right to advocate for change because it’s the world you’re gonna have to live in…  But also understand that you get one shot at an education.”

Overseeing the Protest

(from left to right) Safety Supervisor Dana Holt, PRHS Principal Anthony Overton, Director of Student Services Tom Harrington

After nutrition, no additional students were allowed to join the protest for fear of “disrupting the education setting,” as rumors claiming that pizza and donuts were distributed to the students spurred more bearcats to join in. However, the donuts were from a parent and they were not permitted to eat them until nutrition, and the pizza was for an ASB Advisors meeting.

Hunter Breese later conversed with PRJUSD leaders such as Principal Anthony Overton, Board President Chris Arend, and Board member Dorian Baker, and appeared on KSBY to bring light to the protest.

”The goal right now is to get the attention of the school board, as well as local and state leaders and try to make a change for what’s happening as far as the mask mandate,”

Breese (12)

Breese appeared on Fox News under a segment entitled, “School Districts Split on Masking Policies” where he and a student from Texas discussed mask policies at their schools. 

With decisions from both California and PRJUSD that will affect students statewide and locally around the corner, a digital petition on change.org was created by Matthew Hernandez, a junior at PRHS,  in hopes to reach State Representative Jordan Cunningham.

“We all have voices and we all want the same thing, to be heard, to not only make a difference in our community but to make as big of a difference as possible in the world as the next generation and our nation’s youth,” Hernandez said. “We want to turn the public’s eye to us and help them understand why we do what we do, and come to an understanding of each other’s point of view on certain controversial topics and issues.”

Student senate members are continuing to discuss the issue as well.

Student hopes will be in the hands of the Board of Trustees on Feb. 22. The Board Members will have a series of choices to make in regards to the mask mandate at their next board meeting on Feb. 22. They can vote to: Keep mask mandate, wait until the state comes out with a new status quo on Feb. 28, get rid of the requiring of masks in schools via the Roseville resolution, or use a community member suggestion where only medical exemptions can wear a mask. 

Students like Breese plan to attend the Feb. 22, meeting to voice their discontent. Though they still must wear face coverings at school, the students are masked but not voiceless.

 photo credits: Miguel Muñiz

photo credits/Breese interview: Bricen Chitty

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