A+Movement+Unmasked

Kaiser, Bill G.

A Movement Unmasked

In this Special Report, The Express seeks to interpret recent protests, offering perspectives on the events from the viewpoint of the authors.

February 17, 2022

Scores of Mask Choice Advocates Show In Board Room Following Two Weeks of Protest

Students+demonstrated+just+outside+of+school+bounds+with+signs+and+an+American+flag.+Other+demonstrations++similar+to+this+took+place+at+schools+such+as+San+Clemente+High+School+and+Ladera+Ranch+Middle+School.+

Sandhya Ganesan

Students demonstrated just outside of school bounds with signs and an American flag. Other demonstrations similar to this took place at schools such as San Clemente High School and Ladera Ranch Middle School.

A social media movement advocating for the repeal of school mask mandates led to over two weeks of school demonstrations and a flooded speakers list at the Feb. 16 CUSD board meeting. 

The movement, started by SJHHS students on their personal Instagram accounts, urged students to respectfully demonstrate their opinions by saying  “We must take action and protect our liberties. We need to stand together and make change,” and encouraged like minded students to peacefully protest by saying, “If your teacher asks you to put on a mask or asks you if you need a mask, reply with ‘no thank you.’”

In the week after the original post, students have protested just outside of school bounds at the intersections of La Pata and Stallion Ridge and around the trail behind the school. Protesters carried signs made at home along with  American flags. In addition, students organized to protest outside of the Orange County Health Care Agency office in Santa Ana on Monday February 14 at 4 p.m. with signs. 

These new locations for protests drew others to the demonstrations. A protest at the Ladera Ranch Middle School at the end of the first week of the protest garnered a significant amount of attention, and even tried to engage with other social media accounts, tagging people such as  Turning Point USA’s founder, Charlie Kirk, and Candace Owens. 

The series of new demonstrations has primarily been organized by a new Instagram account @studentmaskchoice, which has over 3k followers, and features many reels from protests. Other schools in the district, like San Clemente High School, have also had students protest the mask mandate in a similar fashion.   

Protestors advocate the end to the mask mandate in school, claiming that young people aren’t as affected by Covid, and that politicians and celebrities themselves aren’t following the mandates they set and support. 

State legislators have been relaxing mandates across the country. Indoor masking mandates have already expired in California, following CDPH guidelines, however there are venues that require exceptions still like K-12 schools.

In a petition authored by one student, senior Daniel Sorenson, the “Parents, Teachers, Faculty, and Students” he signed on behalf of the claim that “Covid rules have kept many of us safe for a long time. Many of us have taken the added precaution of becoming fully vaccinated. We can’t mask forever – we have to pivot. When better information and better protocols have become available to us, we have implemented them. It is time again to change the rules. Adapt or die.

On Feb. 28 those restrictions will be revisited, according to Dr. Mark Ghaly of the California Department of Public Health said in a video conference. According to Ghaly CDPH will “reassess data/conditions (e.g. case rate, test positivity, hospitalizations, pediatric hospitalizations, and vaccine rates) for future change to statewide school masking requirements…”   

Voices of the Students

Travis Spongberg

In an interview with The Express, senior Travis Spongberg, member of the Student Mask Choice group, seemed confident in his group’s goal: to promote “mask choice” in schools. The protests have certainly created awareness, but now hope to begin impacting policy.

Spongberg is adamant to label the protests as “pro-choice,” not “anti-mask.” On Feb.15, most indoor mask mandate regulations were removed, but school mask mandates remain unchanged.

In the interview, conducted on Feb. 10, Spongberg said that Covid-19 does not pose much risk to students, so they should have the choice to not wear a mask.

He said the group was inspired by a photo of Governor Gavin Newsom mask-less at a mask-required Rams football game. While this moment may have been a singular spot of vulnerability for Newsom personally, protestors do not feel the government as a whole has been consistent with their mandates.

“It’s more of the time to [protest school mask mandates] than ever really, because the people who are enforcing the rules aren’t following them,” said Spongberg. “It’s almost like they’re mocking us. Like ‘oh the kids who are the least at risk are the ones who have to wear masks but no as soon as you step outside COVID’s gone and you can go into stores and anywhere else without a mask.’” 

The movement began with an Instagram story on Feb. 6 advocating that students should refuse to wear a mask during class, and if they were kicked out by their teacher they were to leave respectfully. Since then, students have continued to take the movement to greater heights through a petition, authored by senior Daniel Sorenson, which has over 1,100 signatories and an Instagram account with over 6,000 followers.

The group held protests in the SJHHS parking lot, at Ladera Ranch Middle School, and at the district office. A protest at the Orange County Department of Health (OCDPH) in Santa Ana was also held on Feb. 14, where the turnout seemed to be smaller.

However, the Student Mask Choice group may have flaws on their stance with mask politics. In the interview Spongberg said he does not believe masks should be a political topic. Their petition said the same.

“As we have become more immune to Covid and found that studies have shown that vaccinated students are no longer at significant risk or harm, masks have become more of a political virtue signal and less a safety standard. Please run your politics in another setting outside of the classroom,” wrote Sorenson in the petition

Yet the Student Mask Choice group frequently tags leading right political figures like Charlie Kirk, Benny Johnson, Donald Trump Jr., Candace Owens, and a Republican organization called Turning Point USA in their instagram posts, likely in order to be acknowledged and reposted by these figures for more publicity.

Few students have even been skipping school in protest since Feb. 7. If a teacher accepts work from an unexcused absent student, it is at their discretion. Every act of civil disobedience requires sacrifice to be successful.

Spongberg said that his teachers have been understanding of the protests and what it requires. He even adds that some of his teachers now hold more respect for him because he is standing up for his beliefs, regardless if they agree or disagree with the movement.

Divisiveness has become increasingly apparent on campus, especially through hateful Instagram comments from both sides. Spongberg said he has received death threats, including wishes of harm towards him and his family because of his involvement in the campaign.

“I don’t really take it badly when people negatively say things to me. I just kind of am like ‘ok you have your opinions and I have mine,’ if you want to tell me you hope I die because we don’t believe the same thing I mean I think that’s where a red line should be crossed,” said Spongberg. “I just think it’s kind of ridiculous that people take it that far and go to the extent that ‘if you don’t think the same thing as me I hope your family dies.’”

Spongberg plans to stay out of school and attempt learning from home as long as he can maintain his grades. If he returns to school, however, he says he will not count this as failure because the group has brought significant awareness to the issue.

Voices of the Students

Macy Ferenstein

“You’re ugly.”

“I hope your family gets sick.” 

“I’m going to kill you.” 

“I’m going to beat you up at school.”

These were just a few of the hundreds of hate comments targeted at Macy Ferenstein after posting on her Instagram account, encouraging  students to refuse to wear a mask in class to protest the county-wide mask mandate. However, Ferenstein believes that her views got twisted in the chaos and controversy. 

“We’re a pro-mask choice, we’re not anti-mask. People are getting confused, I would never go up to someone and say take your mask off, I’m just saying you should have a choice. I was hoping that by posting that, other kids who also don’t want to wear their mask in class would see that they are not alone, that we’re going to be doing this together, and that they would feel more comfortable taking their mask off.”

Ferenstein says she knew that she would face backlash following her post, but she didn’t expect to be met with the level of hate she received.

“The response has been kind of disappointing because it’s kind of a reflection of society today. I don’t think that when you post your political opinion, your opinion on anything honestly, you should be faced with insults. Honestly, that’s really sad to me because I would love to have respectful debates and I would be happy doing that,” said Ferenstein. “I’m not going to engage in hate and I’m not going to perpetuate hate.”

Despite the hundreds of hateful comments and messages, Ferenstein is hopeful for the movement’s success and doesn’t regret anything she has done. She believes that the controversy has brought more awareness to the ongoing debate and has started an active dialogue on campus. 

Ferenstein also believes that there are more supporters for lifting the mask mandate than people think, but believes the backlash she received has scared students who agree with her to speak up. 

“What motivates me to keep going is that I know there are people who have reached out to me and said they’re grateful for me and wish that they had the courage to speak out too,” said Ferenstein.

Part of the reason why Ferenstein and her demonstration has faced significant hostility is due to  student concerns for the safety of their immunocompromised family members if students were to stop wearing masks. Ferenstein believes that people have made assumptions about her and her life without knowing who she is, including her health. 

“My mom has an autoimmune disease, and I have a disease called Gaucher Disease,” said Ferenstein. “My spleen and liver are both compromised, and your spleen affects your immune system.” 

Ferenstein claims that the environment on campus has been hostile to her and other students long before this incident, and San Juan Hills has a significant bullying problem that has yet to be addressed properly. 

“We need consequences for bullying, we need consequences for harassment, we need consequences for threats.”

Ferenstein believes that while the administration has reached out to her offering support, it isn’t enough. She has declined their offer of a police escort because concern for her safety isn’t the only reason she isn’t returning to campus, it’s also due to the silent hostility she believes she would face if she were to go back to class.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever feel welcome or safe back on the campus,” said Ferenstein. “I think we all have to collectively want to be a more respectful student body.”

Voices of the Students

Ashley Delgado

The viral Instagram post from an SJHHS student who intended to start a protest against school masking mandates has seen intense response both in support and against the movement.

One such response was from senior Ashley Delgado, who posted her own thoughts opposing the movement, highlighting the nuances of the issue for different demographics and the effects of how such a protest could impact other students.

“I felt like I should speak up, not just for myself, but for others who were also taken back,” said Delgado.

Delgado’s post has since received over a thousand likes and just as many comments all furthering discourse around masking. Her post has also been shared multiple times on various Instagram stories and other social media platforms.

Comments on the post have ranged anywhere from encouragement and support of her argument to hate and disagreement over Delgado’s message, or current masking mandates overall.

However, Delgado stands behind everything she posted and has not let any hate comments get to her or change her stance.

“On social media, I’ve had a lot of backlash but I honestly don’t really care,” says Delgado. “Backlash is backlash. If you are going to advocate for something you have to expect it. I just haven’t let it bother me.”

The topic of COVID and masking have a personal connection to Delgado, who has experienced family members endangered by the virus. This is one of the reasons she felt the need to speak up from a different perspective against the original anti-mask statement.

Much of the main debate around Delgado’s post surrounds her argument that COVID and the pandemic are disproportionately harder for low-income families and minorities. 

In her post, Delgado explains that “Half of our school is built off of low-income families, minorities. Their children cannot afford to get sick because of COVID-19 and its variants…”   

While many could relate to this statement with a first-hand account of the different experiences that different demographics must face, others argued that the issue at hand has nothing to do with income and race.

Delgado, a minority coming from a lower-income household, disagreed, feeling that the two issues are strongly linked.

“It’s hard for everyone, but mainly low-income families who are struggling, trying to keep up with COVID affecting work wages,” says Delgado. “I stated the whole minority part and the white privilege part just because it is relevant to how COVID affects people, and it was just taken in the wrong context.”

Looking forward, Delgado hopes that we can view these issues in a more empathetic and sensitive way, being aware of all sides to a situation, and the various ways it affects different people.

“It’s good for students to advocate for their rights, especially at our age, I just feel like it is in an extremely unproductive way as it’s interfering with the well-being and health of others.”

Voices of the Students

Hayley Hall

It all started with a single social media post.

A story was posted on Instagram urging students to decline the statewide mask mandates and refuse to mask-up at school from now on, striking extreme controversy within our community.

Hashtags trended and students chose which side to take: “pro-mask” or “pro-mask choice.”

In response, an additional post was made on Instagram by fellow student, senior Ashley Delgado, sharing her take on the issue and accumulating over thirteen-hundred comments in just three days.

Students defended and advocated on behalf of their side of the debate, offering their opinions and reasoning to support. However, the comment section wasn’t just filled with respectful, passionate debate, but with hostility and contentious discourse. 

When I saw all of the debate in the comments I was confused about where a lot of people get their information, and sad to see that misinformation has impacted so many people’s opinions. It seemed like a lot of people think masks are meant to protect the person wearing it, when in reality they are meant to protect those around you,” said senior Hayley Hall.

Both of Hall’s parents work in the medical field, her mother “a nurse who had COVID patients on her floor for a while because there were so many patients in the actual COVID unit at Mission Hospital.” Her father is a respiratory therapist, meaning he manages the breathing and airway of patients, and as “COVID impacts the respiratory system, he takes care of COVID patients every day at work.”

Hall’s parents recommend people continue to mask as long as the mandate is in place while the virus continues to mutate, and more variants spread; especially at school, where “people are so close together and thousands of us at SJHHS [have] different backgrounds and home lives. Some people and their families are at a higher risk of getting really sick or even dying if a student brings home COVID from someone who decided to not wear a mask.”

“Because you are most contagious 2 days before you are sick, you can be spreading droplets before you even know you have the virus. Masks are meant to protect the people around you when you are wearing it properly, so if everyone in a classroom is wearing a mask, your chances of getting COVID are lowered,” said Hall.

All three strongly support masking and vaccinations, as they protect not only those at risk, but prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed and healthcare workers from being overworked because of Covid cases. Patients who can otherwise get non-COVID related care quickly and efficiently are struggling as beds are filled with COVID patients, many of which are unvaccinated.

“To people who are pro-mask choice, I want to say that wearing a mask is an easy way to protect those around you. It is one step in stopping the spread of the virus while it is still all around us. If everyone is wearing a mask, there are multiple layers of protection between people,” said Hall.

Despite what side of the argument one may take, most can agree that they just want all of this to be over: the pandemic and the political unrest that wrongfully accompanies it.

“This shouldn’t need to be a political issue, but it has become a divider. People in the comments on the Instagram post were attacking each other about politics and which news networks they watch, but this should be solely about science and medicine that is backed by real studies and data,” said Hall.

The most important thing to remember through all of the mask-driven controversy is to be respectful to everyone brave enough to vocalize their opinion.

Stay safe and remain respectful.

#letusbreathe Is Not Your Hashtag

Students+who+left+campus+after+declining+to+wear+a+mask+gather+at+the+CUSD+District+Office+to+protest+the+mask+mandate.

Photo Courtesy of Macy Ferenstein

Students who left campus after declining to wear a mask gather at the CUSD District Office to protest the mask mandate.

“Everyone STAY RESPECTFUL and STAY STRONG… #letusbreathe.”

These are the messages protest organizers use to encourage individuals to take part in their “movement.”

Social media crafts a platform for protests such as the pro-choice mask protest that grips SJHHS. The creation of hashtags allows for movements to be encapsulated into powerful sayings, and are used as means of creating a unified front. 

However, whether intentional or not, students protesting the mask mandate’s use of #letusbreathe is disgusting, inappropriate, and seems deliberately racist. 

Throughout the pandemic, individuals opposing the health measures that have been enforced for public safety claim themselves to be the truly oppressed. The extreme irony and inappropriate nature of these comments is made apparent when looking at the demographics of who more often do not wear masks. Data and studies have revealed that white men are the least likely to wear masks.

With this in mind, comments about oppression coming from this demographic echo claims of “reverse racism” and demonstrate the insensitivity and disregard for BIPOC experiences and intense historical hardships. Many have encouraged other unvaccinated individuals to wear a star similar to the Star of David, claiming they are facing a new holocaust. Others like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green have claimed that there is a “new Jim Crow” facing those who do not want to wear masks. 

What is particularly disrespectful about these claims is that they disregard the severity of these historical instances of oppression and disrespect survivors and those traumatized by those events through mere association. Individuals who do not wear a mask are not being oppressed. They have the freedom to stay home or in outdoor spaces where masks are not required. They are not being discriminated against based on their identity or how they were born and they are not denied access to healthcare when they get sick from Covid after exposing themselves while not being vaccinated or protected by a mask.

Their choice of wearing a mask is still preserved, they simply have to compromise when they choose not to wear one. Associating their childish refusal to wear a simple piece of cloth for the safety of them and those around them with the hashtag “letusbreathe” is appalling. 

#letusbreathe is a movement that many rally around as part of the Black Lives Matter movement after the horrific 9 minute video of George Floyd’s death at the hands of former officer Derik Chauvin and Eric Garner’s death in a police chokehold. Floyd could not breathe underneath Chauvin’s knee. Garner, who died at the hands of police in a chokehold could also not breathe. 

White individuals cannot draw parallels to Black movements, because there are in fact no similarities between the two. One glaring difference strips the possibility of similarities all away: Black people have been oppressed for centuries, and white suburban folks who have to wear a mask are nowhere close to being oppressed.”

It was not a piece of cloth that was “suffocating” them. It was centuries of systemic racism and racist people that were suffocating them to death, and have a grip on thousands more Black individuals in this country. 

White men, women, and other individuals who refuse to wear a mask because they find them “suffocating” or “oppressive” have no idea the extent to which real oppression suffocates individuals. Suffocates them to the point where folks like Ahmad Arbery cannot go on a run in his community. To the point where Breonna Taylor and other Black individuals cannot go to sleep safely in their own homes. 

These are the true individuals who are being oppressed by a pandemic that has existed centuries longer than Covid. The disgusting appropriation of the #letusbreathe delegitimizes the centuries of struggles and the immense grief Black individuals have had to repeatedly face because systemic racism continues to persist and pervade every facet of life. 

What’s more is that cherished Black figures are also being used as a political maneuver to legitimize and honorize the protest against health measures. In one caption of an @studentmaskchoice instagram reel of protesters in front of Ladera Ranch Middle School,  an excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech was used. Others have equated their protesting and refusal to wear a mask to Rosa Parks’ and many others of the Montgomery Bus Boycott’s civil disobedience.  

White individuals drawing parallels with their movement to ones in which Black individuals were fighting for their quality of life and against their white oppressors is horrendous. This is especially insensitive during Black History Month, a time in which we should be honoring Black accomplishment and realizing how much more needs to be done to make marginalized communities equal. White individuals cannot draw parallels to Black movements, because there are in fact no similarities between the two. One glaring difference strips the possibility of similarities all away: Black people have been oppressed for centuries, and white suburban folks who have to wear a mask are nowhere close to being oppressed.     

The manner in which these individuals are protesting against a government mandate that is designed for public safety and also has been upheld in courts shows the inherent racism in our perceptions of individuals. Just as with the attacks on the capitol, these mask mandate protests are not being viewed in the same manner Black Lives Matter protests and advocacy for inoculation is. People of color more frequently dominate Black Lives Matter protests and the advocacy around vaccines, and the fact that these movements are villainized, called riots and infringements on people’s liberties is not a coincidence. 

Using a hashtag that has notable significance to the Black community, being insensitive to historically marginalized groups, forcing teachers to become conflict mediators and other students to compromise their and others safety is not civil disobedience and should never be looked upon as such.  

With this being said, the message to these “protestors” is simple. 

You still can and have always been able to breathe. Before you claim to be oppressed or stripped of liberties, learn what being oppressed actually looks like. It is a disgrace to our curriculums and the country for you to evoke traumatic and serious events from history and use them as pathos for your illogical arguments against public safety regulations. 

How to Effectively Take Steps to Create Change

As writers of The Express, we are in full support of individuals speaking up about what they believe in. It is important that when anyone sees a need for change, they are not afraid to make their voice heard. 

By no means are we saying that the students protesting the mask mandate at SJHHS should be silenced, rather we are disappointed at the inconsiderate way they went about their actions. 

Students have been walking into class without a mask to protest the California mask mandate, which states that “K-12 students are required to mask indoors, with exemptions per CDPH face mask guidance.” This is a statewide mandate, not one specific to SJHHS. 

Students and parents who hold schools and school districts accountable for the mandate do not recognize that every school across California is not given the choice, and there is nothing administrations nor our teachers can do about it. 

By walking into classes without masks on, students are putting their fellow classmates at risk and creating uncomfortable interactions with teachers. Teachers are taught how to deal with confrontation, however the refusal to wear a mask puts teachers in a spot where they need to speak up and enforce the mandate, an unprecedented type of confrontation in the classrooms. 

The California Department of Public Health says that, “Consistent with guidance from the 2020-21 school year, schools must develop and implement local protocols to enforce the mask requirements.”

We believe that there are better ways for these students to get their point across. Instead of exposing classmates to possible illness and putting teachers in tough positions, we hope the students will prioritize taking their opinions to those who actually have the power to create change. 

Ultimately, the students did not express much empathy for the individuals who rely on masks to keep themselves and their families safe. Everyone is tired of wearing masks, but we must be mature and consider how our actions affect others before making impulsive decisions.   

While the advocates for mask choice could have handled the situation better, those who argue against them are not much better. Some students arguing against those protesting the mask mandate lack a filter on some of the rebuttals they make, which target the physical appearance, the safety, and even the families of the protestors. 

These types of attacks and insults on individuals’ appearance and character are far from effective in trying to get others who disagree to be open-minded and listen to what they have to say. When comments start to drift from respectful disagreements to threats and cyberbullying, people no longer feel safe to express their views. 

As students who advocate deeply for free speech, we aim to foster an environment which cultivates educated, respectful discourse. As students grow up and begin to explore their beliefs and align their morals, we encourage them to educate themselves and discuss with one another, respectfully.

10 Problems Facing SJHHS Students That Are More Serious Than Mask Mandates

Currently%2C+the+main+focus+of+SJHHS+student+activism+is+centered+around+repealing+mask+mandates.+While+the+energy+put+into+this+cause+is+admirable%2C+it+begs+the+question%E2%80%94could+this+energy+be+utilized+to+help+resolve+other+issues+that+are+greater+affecting+our+community%3F

Anna Ho

Currently, the main focus of SJHHS student activism is centered around repealing mask mandates. While the energy put into this cause is admirable, it begs the question—could this energy be utilized to help resolve other issues that are greater affecting our community?

It is honorable to take a stand for something you believe in, and the political energy demonstrated by the mask protest organizers is admirable. With increased political focus and action surrounding mask mandates, however, other pressing issues affecting SJHHS students are being overlooked. We need to analyze and determine what our priorities are, and repealing mask mandates—most of which have already been lifted in all indoor and outdoor public spaces outside of K-12 schools—should certainly not be one of them. 

Here are 10 important issues facing our community that students can put their energy and activism into: 

(ISSUES ARE NOT LISTED IN ANY SPECIFIC ORDER)

1. Financial Instability: 

Homelessness affects an estimated 270 students at SJHHS, who are recognized under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Even if they have a roof over their heads, many students do not know how their family will pay the bills or afford essentials such as food. Many have to work one or multiple jobs to financially support their families.

HOW YOU CAN PUT YOUR POLITICAL ENERGY INTO THIS ISSUE

  • Volunteer to help students without housing, such as with nonprofits like FAM.
  • Support or hold fundraising events that help students afford school activities. SJHHS has clubs centered around this purpose, such as Sponsor-A-Stallion.

 

2. Mental Health

Depression and anxiety among adolescents have been steadily increasing—20-30% of teenagers battle symptoms of depression or anxiety. Lack of resources, visibility, and the financial costs of aid cause many students to go without treatment for mental health disorders. Even for teenagers who are receiving help, the process of healing can be a long and exhausting one. While masks might be affecting the mental health of some individuals, they are certainly not the main cause driving the decline. 

HOW YOU CAN PUT YOUR POLITICAL ENERGY INTO THIS ISSUE

  • Petition for the school to put more resources in place for struggling students and demand for better promotion of the schools’ current resources. 
  • Organize or join mental health awareness campaigns.

 

3. Personal or Familial Health Issues

Many SJHHS students are either struggling with health problems or have a loved one who is afflicted by medical issues. Personal illness or caring for someone ill can disrupt almost all aspects of life. In addition to this, some students and their families face difficulties in paying for medical treatments, placing additional stress on families already enduring extremely challenging circumstances.

HOW YOU CAN PUT YOUR POLITICAL ENERGY INTO THIS ISSUE

  • Organize fundraisers for students who need financial help due to medical issues.
  • Coordinate support for students who are struggling with health issues. This can look like sending notes and homework to a continually absent student.

 

4. Eating Disorders/Body Image Issues

Many students struggle with eating disorders and body dysmorphia to different extents, and those issues often go unnoticed and untreated. This can be extremely detrimental to student life, as a poor diet can lead to poor sleep, lack of focus, and mental health issues.

HOW YOU CAN PUT YOUR POLITICAL ENERGY INTO THIS ISSUE

  • Meet with school administration and petition for them to implement more resources toward raising awareness about and aiding students struggling with eating disorders.

 

5. Familial Struggles and Strained Relationships

Students often have to deal with divorce, remarriages, and abusive relationships at home. Others have young children in their families who they share responsibility in raising and caring for, especially when parents work long hours. Other strained relationships with loved ones can take serious tolls on student mental health, and these issues cause them to place school priorities on the back burner. 

HOW YOU CAN PUT YOUR POLITICAL ENERGY INTO THIS ISSUE

  • Create outreach programs that provide support systems to students struggling at home.
  • Contact the School Board and local government officials and petition for them to implement better childcare programs for young children.

 

6. Academic Pressure

The immense academic pressure faced by students can lead to overwhelming thoughts about college and future careers—which can lead to anxiety and depression. Many are struggling with balancing heavy course loads, AP/Honors classes, extracurriculars, and more. Students who have ADHD and learning disorders often have additional difficulties and can feel this pressure tenfold. 

HOW YOU CAN PUT YOUR POLITICAL ENERGY INTO THIS ISSUE

  • Join and assist tutoring programs.
  • Speak with teachers and counselors on possible steps toward helping other students—and potentially yourself—find balance. 

 

7. Drug Abuse

Students are increasingly reliant on nicotine, alcohol, and marijuana, often using them as mediums of escapism. This can be extremely dangerous as students often do not know the ingredients or effects of what they are ingesting, as many drugs are even very unfamiliar to pharmaceutical scientists. This can cause serious, direct health issues among the student body, as many vaping devices have harmful, damaging chemicals added to them.

HOW YOU CAN PUT YOUR POLITICAL ENERGY INTO THIS ISSUE

  • Raise awareness. Use social media tools and graphics to make students aware of the harm and health risks associated with certain drugs.

 

8. Racism

Students of color face racism in nearly all facets of their lives. It can be mentally taxing to face such hate day by day and dangerous for students when they are more likely to be attacked in the street because of their physical appearance.

HOW YOU CAN PUT YOUR POLITICAL ENERGY INTO THIS ISSUE

  • Use social media to raise awareness and hold others accountable for their racism.
  • Educate yourself. Speak up at school board meetings to push for a more race-inclusive curriculum and resources for POC students at SJHHS.

 

9. Sexual Assault

Many individuals—especially young women—who have experienced sexual harassment/assault have to walk the same halls as their abuser, which is terrifying. Both men and women who have encountered abuse or assault are afraid to come out with their stories or are even shut down when they do, creating an ongoing pattern of abusers getting away with their actions and victimizing other students.

HOW YOU CAN PUT YOUR POLITICAL ENERGY INTO THIS ISSUE

  • Support survivors—raise awareness through social media if they consent to it.
  • Work with victims and school administration to take action and hold abusers accountable.

 

10. Intrapersonal Struggles

In high school, almost every student undergoes struggles with their identity, trying to figure out a place for themselves in the world. This internal conflict can be especially difficult for queer students, many of whom are figuring out their own sexual and gender identities in conjunction with the homophobia they face at home.

HOW YOU CAN PUT YOUR POLITICAL ENERGY INTO THIS ISSUE

  • Find ways to support students and connect them to the advice of people who have gone through the same experiences.
  • Support and join organizations that aid queer students. A good example of this is the SJHHS Queer Alliance.

 

The topic we are debating should not be whether or not mask mandates are effective. The wide variety of “facts” that people believe make it seem as if this debate will never end. 

In an ideal world, every problem facing our community can be duly addressed. Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in, and it is most logical for student activists to confront the most serious problems facing our community first.

Masks are not a dire issue. If mask mandates are truly the only threat to your liberties and general well-being, you should be extremely thankful for the fortune and privilege you have received in your life. Use that privilege to help those less fortunate than you.

 

Mask Mandates Are Not an Infringement on Your Liberties

As someone who is half white and half Asian, I see and experience the characteristics of both privilege and oppression. I do not face the firsthand discrimination that many Asians receive – nor am I entitled to the natural advantages of a white person – I am in the middle, capable of seeing without innate bias to either side.

In the current climate of things on campus, I recognize how a specific group of people are trying to claim they’re oppressed. One of the typical arguments of the protests is that being required to wear a mask is unconstitutional, a claim that is outright fallacious. Mask mandates are put in place by the state with rational and effective purpose: to not infringe upon any constitutional rights.

Mask mandates do not infringe upon the liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment. They are meant to regulate potential cases as a safety precaution within a pandemic, not to suppress free speech. 

If you believe a piece of cloth infringes upon your rights endowed by the Constitution, consider looking into groups of people who have actually been historically oppressed and deprived of their rights. People belonging to the LGBTQ+ community continue to battle for their civil rights in Congress. Black people still face prominent discrimination and endure systemic oppression. If you believe in standing up for your liberties, why not put effort elsewhere – into achieving equality for everyone?

The actions conducted by these people demonstrate self-victimizing behavior. These people, the majority of whom are white, are trying to be oppressed when they are not. This is the upper hand of white privilege.  ”

Masks do not restrict you from breathing nor do they disable you. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 guarantees equal protection and opportunities for individuals with disabilities; evidently, mask mandates do not violate this law because wearing a mask does not cause severe medical complications, and individuals with disabilities are able to wear them.

If you believe a mask is disabling you, it’s time to remind yourself of what a disability really is. As defined by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, disabilities are “long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder [a person’s] full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”

White privilege is the innate advantage a white person holds in a system of racial injustice due to their race. This concept pervades our nation and its systems and is undeniably a factor in the controversy taking place. White privilege unequally gives white people unspoken yet prominent respect in societies of varying groups of people. People whom are white are indirectly shielded from racial discrimination and the disadvantages of being an inferior group.   

Clearly, the attempted demonstrations are an example of using white privilege. The problem with this is that, while being a “superior” and dominant race, they are acting as if they are being discriminated against. If mask mandates were truly an infringement on our rights and were proven to be more harmful than helpful, I’m sure more of us – not just a group led by a dramatically predominant white makeup – would have an issue with it.

On campus you will learn about the experiences of truly oppressed people, that civil disobedience comes with a cost, and that liberties are not absolute.

Hold the Right People Accountable

A post made by a fellow female student with 1100+ likes, 1400 comments, and just one tag. A movement led by two students, yet the female core organizer faces the brunt of it. 

At the time of the first controversial post, student Macy Ferenstein tagged herself and her counterpart, Travis Spongberg, who equally organized, publicized, and led the protest against the mask mandate in schools. When a rebuttal to their argument was posted, backlash was dramatically disproportionately targeted towards Ferenstein, placing the majority of responsibility on her.  

Ferenstein herself attributes this to her account being public, which allowed anyone who wanted to see the post to see it regardless of their following status, also allowing them to share it. This is how her Instagram story, which was originally supposed to only remain up for 24 hours,  spread like wildfire across social media platforms. Meanwhile, Spongberg’s account, and all the publicity for the movement he was posting, was kept private.

Ferenstein quickly went private after being met with attacks and threats. Even so, she continues to face the brunt of the negative response, on all social media platforms. While Spongberg himself has wrongfully received several threats and has been a target of online hostility, Ferenstein has been made the face of the movement in the eyes of the public.

It is important that we begin to internally recognize our own biases, and hold the proper people accountable, including ourselves, for preserving and creating an environment which cultivates the hatred and polarization both parties strive to end,”

This situation reflects many others in which women are held to a dramatically different standard than men. In some cases, regardless of how insignificant or how notable, the problem is the woman.

Sexism in politics can have the effect of discouraging women from organizing campaigns and protests to further their political views. Research suggests that male political candidates are far less likely than female candidates to be referenced by their gender, because men are accepted as the norm within politics. 

Focusing on a female activist or candidate’s style and personal attributes ignores their substance and leadership abilities. Media coverage and public commentary on women in politics often includes sexist language which reinforces gender stereotypes. 

Ironically, much of the hatred comes from other young girls. Women who would normally argue on the existence of sexism carried out by men are now carrying it out themselves. To perpetuate this hatred starting at the high school level can be damaging for young women exploring political activism, especially when the hostility comes from another woman.

By no means do we argue that hatred should be directed toward both core organizers, because respectful discourse leaves no room for hatred. Rather, it is important that we begin to internally recognize our own biases, and hold the proper people accountable, including ourselves, for preserving and creating an environment which cultivates the hatred and polarization both parties strive to end.

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  • K

    Katie ParkerMar 5, 2022 at 6:33 AM

    I respect this paper. I respect the writers. I respect the opinions. I disagree and am disappointed with the racial angles–but again, respect the opinions.

    I hope all the students who have spoken out so clearly against these protests and students–some in horrid ways– stick to your beliefs and continue to wear the masks after March 11th. It takes great courage to stand up for your beliefs which means sometimes standing alone. As a mother of six Newsom’s Smarter plan which pushed universal masking of K-12 was a great concern. I was looking to the future and very grateful this push-back began. Although the date of March 11th is arbitrary–it is an end date and I am grateful for those that stood up. Again, I hope all the students who have spoken out so clearly against these protests and students–some in horrid ways– stick to your beliefs and continue to wear the masks after March 11th. It takes great courage to stand up for your beliefs which means sometimes standing alone.

    I am grateful you have that choice and wish you all the best.

    Reply
  • J

    Jessica KeetchMar 5, 2022 at 1:20 AM

    As a parent of students at San Juan Hills, Ladera Middle and Oso Grande I am very concerned that speaking up against mask mandates is equated with white privileged and racism. We cannot enable such broad accusations and serious claims against students for using their constitutional right of free speech. This has nothing to do with race or class or demographics. Governor Newsom didn’t attached any medical bench line to mask mandates. So the removal of mandates were not connected to the rates of Covid or the safety of teachers, but to special interests opinions. Students saw that mandates were being lifted all around the state. How is it safe for everyone but them? This has nothing to do with race, wealth, privilege and to allow op Ed pieces published with this content puts students at risk. This are unfounded and slanderous accusations. My kids don’t dare speak their opinion in fear of backlash and bullying from students and teachers. Administration needs to get a handle on this situation ASAP! Respect for both side regardless of choice. Mask choice students have been extremely respectful. It’s only right as administrator you expect the same from
    Both sides.

    Reply
    • S

      Sandhya GanesanMar 8, 2022 at 11:15 AM

      Thank you for voicing your concerns! Throughout our edition, our staff made it clear that we respect other students’ exercise of their right to free speech, however believe that the way in which they spoke up demonstrated a degree of privilege and disregard for BIPOC individuals. The pandemic has everything to do with class and race, as Black communities and lower income communities have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Hospital care is expensive, and lower income families cannot often afford to pay hospital bills or skip work due to covid complications or infection. Case rates were taken into account when removing the mask mandate, and the California Department of Health was also involved in the decision, which makes it inherently a medically influenced issue. No students have been put at risk by our right to free speech and voicing our opinions, and we are constitutionally protected to write the opinions with which you may take issue. Our administration is not allowed prior review and is supportive of our right to free press, as they are obligated to be under California Education code 48907. We have respectfully exercised our right to speech just as mask choice students have, and have done so in what we believe to be a cogent and respectful way. We are grateful for all opinions and are thankful for the respect both sides have shown in this issue.

      Reply