While Governor Gavin Newsom reinstates mask mandates for the holiday season, there are pockets of resistance even among California high school students. Consider what some Ponderosa High School students started doing in El Dorado County several months back when they decided to remove their masks as an act of civil disobedience. Meanwhile, parents gathered outside to support them and be a part of what is now called No Mandate Mondays. In the end, the students were threatened with “involuntary transfer” (I.E. unlawful expulsion) if they continued not wearing masks.
Teacher Mike Wikes has taught at the Ponderosa High school for the past five years and he stood with the students and parents in their fight against mask mandates. According to Sacramento Bee, Wikes said, “I was not there preaching to my students. I support my students, including their right to protest.”
As a result of his support of their cause, school administrators placed Wikes on unpaid administrative leave. “It’s bigger than the mask,” he explained. “I’ve worn a mask. It’s bigger than the vaccine. It’s the founding principle of individual rights and liberty.”
Videos of Ponderosa High students went viral on Twitter. “HAPPENING RIGHT NOW,” the post read. “46 STUDENTS CHOSE TO UNMASK with the support of some teachers, but are being kept in two separate rooms by the school administration.”
Andi Wagner, a mom who had praised her daughter on social media for standing up against the mask mandate said her daughter Lexi has been “removed from class multiple times and ultimately asked to find ‘alternative learning’ because she will not comply.” Several advocacy groups, such as Reopen California Schools and Let Them Breathe, supported the efforts of students and their parents.
Let Them Breath’s legal team sent Ponderosa High School Administration and El Dorado Superintendent a legal letter, which explains the protest rights of students, and explains why an unmasked student does not pose a threat to other students.
“The majority of European countries do not require children to wear masks in school,” the letter stated. “Indeed, multiple studies examining school mask mandates have failed to find any epidemiological benefit from such policies. For example, one study of 59 schools in Wales found: ‘There was no evidence that face coverings, 2-meter social distancing or stopping children mixing was associated with lower odds of COVID-19 or cold infection rates in the school. Primary school staff found teaching challenging during COVID-19 restrictions, especially for younger learners and those with additional learning needs.’”
According to Sacramento Bee, Wagner said she hopes the protest becomes a regular occurrence at Ponderosa High. But her daughter won’t be there to keep the momentum going. Lexi decided to transfer schools.
The California Department of Public Health announced on Oct. 20 that they plan on continuing the masking requirements K-12.