COLORADO SPRINGS — The largest school district in Colorado Springs had many students walk out of school on Monday to protest requiring masks in the classroom.
All Academy District 20 students and staff in preschool through 12th grade while in indoor classroom settings or other large group indoor gatherings are now required to wear a mask. The district started the school year serving all students, in-person, five days per week. Superintendent Tom Gregory said under current quarantine regulations in Colorado, it is increasingly difficult to keep students in school.
I never imagined more than 2,000 students and staff would experience quarantines through the first six weeks of school. This equates to more than 300 students serving quarantines every week. Students have not only missed school, but have also been forced to miss athletic competitions, the High Trails experience, choir, band, theater, homecoming and other important programs and activities due to quarantines. Additionally, family schedules, parent work schedules, family income, and our teachers who are also parents have been negatively impacted. If we stay the current course, we risk larger numbers of students missing important activities that support their academic, social, emotional, and mental health. We cannot relive remote, online, and hybrid school as it was last year.Tom Gregory, Academy District 20 Superintendent
Hundreds of students walked out on the first day of the requirement to protest. Liberty High School, Rampart High School, and Pine Creek High School all held protests. Another protest was held outside the administration building on Monday too.
“It’s my choice if I want to wear one,” Rampart Senior Nathaniel Demarchi said. “At the end of the day, I’ve come to realize that I have my rights and I need to fight for them.”
Senior Class President Grace Konz helped organize the protest at Rampart High School. She used social media to spread the word over the weekend.
“It’s super distracting, it’s not great for my breathing, I just can’t, science shows they don’t work so yea I’m fed up,” Konz said. “There are so many people who medically can’t, there are people who emotionally can’t, there are people who are deaf and have to read lips to understand what is going on in school so we decided we needed to show them how many of us are against it.”
The students who protested at Rampart High School want things to go back to normal.
“People would like to say it’s a learning experience, I don’t think that is the case whatsoever,” Senior Concetta Verga added.
Verga mentioned she has already switched schools this year to attend a district where students weren’t required to wear a mask. She’s upset her new school is requiring them after they started the school without a mask requirement.
Some students say it doesn’t bother them too much to wear a mask in the classroom. They just want to have school in person and not go back to remote learning.
“I understand the personal freedom choice, I understand that everyone has the right to do what they want this is America, we fought very long and hard to get that but at the same time 100’s of people are dying every single day, the hospitals are full, people can’t get the support that they need for other more important medical things so this is one of the easiest and safest ways for it to end,” Student Body President Jakob Walker said.
“Inside if it is a mandate I will wear it, but I am concerned us like not having that connectiveness in school,” Junior Sydney Watts said.
There were also parents at the protests and some had their younger children in attendance holding signs as well. Many parents went to both the protest at the high school and outside the administration building.
“It’s been a long year and a half, kids have had a lot of mental and emotional issues, struggles with school and life with this,” Parent Tom Huxtable said. “This is what this is all about is parent choice we want the choice for our own children’s health.”
D20 said it works closely with the El Paso County Public Health Department to track the data.
“It really became our last option to keep kids in school if all parties are masks, we don’t risk as many quarantines,” D20 Chief Communication Officer Allison Cortez said.
“I understand Tom Gregory and the administration was put in a tough decision with trying to keep the quarantines down but why aren’t we fighting and changing the quarantine rules instead of just masking the kids,” Huxtable added.
Students are only required to wear masks in the classroom and large indoor gatherings. At this time, students can only have a medical exemption.
“Our passing periods are only 4 minutes to five minutes at a time so it’s really those areas when we have those areas when we have assemblies or classroom times where students could be in close contact for more than 15 minutes,” Cortez explained.
“I’m wearing a mask right now to prove a point, that it’s not that hard you can wear a mask inside, outside, it doesn’t affect it as much as you think but also I think it is important to get over this, get through this, get done with it whatever that means to help as many people as possible you know.”
For outdoor activities like football games, students and spectators won’t have to wear a mask.