Voices of the Students

Travis Spongberg

February 17, 2022

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.

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