By Collin Breaux
The backlash against ongoing mask mandates for California students is continuing in the Capistrano Unified School District—this time, with students directly involved.
A number of students at Dana Hills High School demonstrated against mask requirements on Tuesday, Feb. 22, when they went to enter their classrooms without a mask.
Of the 15 students who took part in the demonstration, 10 were sent home, and the other five returned to class, according to CUSD. The students who went home were considered an unexcused absence. None of the students was disciplined.
Steve Sprague, a parent of one of the student demonstrators, said his child has become frustrated with having to wear masks. After receiving a text from his kid about the demonstration, Sprague said he supported the decision as long as his child was respectful—and told his kid that actions have consequences.
Children watched adults not wearing masks at the recent Super Bowl in Los Angeles, even though students still have to wear masks while indoors on school campuses, Sprague said. Mask requirements have recently been lifted for fully vaccinated individuals in California, though they are still in place for school settings, as required by the California Department of Public Health.
“The kids really have zero recourse as a student,” Sprague said. “Why do we have different rules for kids?”
Dana Hills High Principal Brad Baker referred a request for comment to CUSD spokesperson Ryan Burris. Burris said there have been various mask protests at school sites across the district since the beginning of February. A similar demonstration also recently took place at San Juan Hills High School.
“Comparing Dana Hills, there have been smaller and larger protests—some before school, and some during school—at various school sites across the District,” Burris said.
If a student arrives at school without an appropriate facial covering, the school or district will provide one.
“If a student declines to wear one, we will contact a parent or guardian to pick up their child from school, unless the student is 18 (they don’t need a parent or guardian),” Burris said in an email. “The absence is marked as an unexcused absence.”
Numerous demonstrations against masks and pandemic restrictions by parents and students have also occurred during CUSD Board of Trustee meetings over the past two years. Some CUSD officials have emphasized that while they recognize and empathize with parents and students, they must follow state guidelines.
State officials have said they will revisit student mask requirements on Monday, Feb. 28—possibly signaling that the mandate will be lifted.
Sprague said his son wonders what voice he and his fellow classmates have as students. When asked his feelings on student mask requirements, Sprague said the policy made sense in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the public initially knew less about the virus.
“There’s events like indoor basketball games, and the masking is arbitrary,” Sprague said. “Some wear it. Some don’t. It’s not enforced.”
Whether someone wears a mask should be a choice, since everyone has different circumstances, said Sprague, who added that his son does wear a mask when around a teacher who has medical concerns.
“There’s no perfect answer to this,” Sprague said.
Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.