Saturday, October 16, 2021
Oct. 16, 2021

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In Our View: Protesters don’t have right to disrupt school

The Columbian
Published:

Protesting against mask mandates in front of schools is a pointless and futile gesture. Critics should take the issue to the governor, legislators and school boards rather than disrupting the educational process.

Instead, protesters recently have gathered on multiple occasions outside Skyview High School in Vancouver Public Schools, waving signs and reportedly shouting at some students. On Sept. 3, several protesters attempted to enter the school, leading to an hourlong lockdown of Skyview and nearby middle and elementary schools.

That resulted in a Clark County Superior Court judge granting an injunction prohibiting demonstrations that “disrupt educational services” within one mile of Vancouver schools. Several protesters responded by gathering at the school to decry the injunction, where they were met by counterprotesters — mostly students and parents — urging the anti-mask faction to stay away from the school.

“This is our school,” one student told The Columbian. “This is our turf. This is my education.”

Indeed. And anti-mask protesters ignore their professed claim to care about students by lodging their complaints in an impotent fashion. Gov. Jay Inslee has required masks in indoor settings to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, saying, “This virus is increasingly impacting young people. … We won’t gamble with the health of our children, our educators and school staff, nor the health of the communities they serve.”

It is tempting to ignore the attention-craving actions of the protesters. They undoubtedly understand the fruitlessness of demonstrating outside the school; they would be foolish not to. School officials must follow the directive of state officials, and Inslee’s directives routinely have been upheld by the courts throughout the pandemic.

But in an age when nonsensical bluster often is regarded as a substitute for reasoned discourse, an ineffectual public display designed to promote discord is likely to draw supporters.

That discord, according to some students, could be heard in classrooms. At that moment, protesters crossed the line of peaceable assembly. They compounded that violation by attempting to enter the school.

As school board President Kyle Sproul told OPB: “Regardless of one’s stance on mask mandates, I think most parents in our community agree that protesting at our school campuses and disrupting the school day is not in the best interest of students.”

While reasonable discussions can be had about mask mandates for students, the protesters are standing on the wrong side of the issue. COVID-19 infections in Clark County reached record levels in recent weeks, and teenagers are more susceptible to the delta variant of the disease than previous versions.

Mask requirements are a reasonable and painless way to curb infections while providing minimal disruption for students. The Vancouver Public Schools website details that exceptions to the mask mandate are available for “people with (a) medical condition, mental health condition, developmental or cognitive condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering.”

Regardless of the arguments regarding mask requirements or available exceptions, the protesters’ actions represent an ineffective approach to the issue.

They have the right to protest; but as a judge has determined, they do not have the right to disrupt the educational process. Those who disagree with mask mandates for students should quickly learn the difference.

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