VIRGINIA — About 60 students and adults protested outside the Virginia High School Tuesday morning against the Rock Ridge School District’s new COVID-19 policy and its masking requirement, which went into effect Tuesday.
The protesters held anti-masking signs with slogans from “My body, my choice’’ to “I can’t breathe.’’ Some students tried to enter the high school without masks at various points.
“We were handing out masks to students who didn't have a mask,’’ according to Superintendent Noel Schmidt, who said it was “mostly a normal school start today.’’
He was not aware of any similar protests at the Eveleth-Gilbert campus.
“We also turned away a few students, but it wasn't very many, who didn't have masks and wouldn't wear them. As soon as they put on a mask they are welcome back,’’ Schmidt said.
When the students were turned away, the parents could be heard shouting against the action by district officials.
Of particular concern to the protesters was the policy requirement for students, staff and visitors to wear face coverings/masks inside any district facility. Masks are also required while attending any indoor school event such as athletic contests, concerts or other events.
The protest came eight days after the new COVID-19 policy was approved by the School Board on a 5-4 vote and just one day after a group of concerned parents sued the district and filed a motion for an injunction to stop the implementation of the mask mandate.
Tuesday morning, “the vast majority of students were wearing masks and the majority of our parents support use of the masks to keep COVID from spreading and thus keeping our kids in school,’’ Schmidt said.
The new COVID-19 policy was approved at the School Board’s Sept. 27 meeting, which was attended by a crowd of more than 100.
Rising COVID-19 cases in the district led to the policy, as did a recent “wave’’ that went through the Nelle Shean Elementary sixth grade in Gilbert, which led to masks being implemented there.
In Monday’s court filings, those against the policy claim requiring a mask submits students, staff and visitors to “unwanted and unwarranted preventative medical treatment.’’
The plaintiffs also believe the district should have an alternative learning option (which is currently not available) for students that choose not to wear face coverings/masks so they will not “be deprived of their right to an education.’’
Sixth District Judge Robert C. Friday will hear the lawsuit and request for the restraining order at 1:30 p.m. Friday through an online remote hearing.