Pine Island parents refuse to comply with school’s mask mandate for kids

The first day back to school at Pine Island promises to be like none other. Not because students and teachers will actually be back in the classroom in person again. But rather because some parents say they intend to send their children to class knowing they may not get past the front door because they refuse to comply with the school’s mask mandate.

Parents didn’t hold back when pressed about their intentions by the Post Bulletin.

When Ericka Shaw’s children show up for school on Sept. 3, they will not be wearing masks.

She’s OK with the fact that they will be violating the rules set down by the Pine Island School Board on Monday.

“If the school is going to send away kids who do not feel comfortable wearing a mask, that’s wrong,” she said.

Shaw has three children. Her oldest, Jace, will be going into the fourth grade this year. Last year, he had trouble with his glasses fogging up while wearing a mask, and with his individualized education plan for speech.

Within days of the Pine Island school board’s August 16 decision to require masks, some 300 parents banded together to start the Pine Island Parents Strong Facebook group with the slogan “unmask our kids.” Several have notified the school district that their children will not comply on the first day of classes.

[Jennifer] Moen has three school-age children. Her 4-year-old daughter has said she doesn’t want to wear a mask and doesn’t want to go to school if she’ll be forced to do so. Moen’s 8-year-old daughter feels the same way.

“She said she was so excited for school this year, but isn’t anymore if she has to wear a mask,” she said.

It’s not clear how the school district plans to deal with students who do not wear masks. But one school board member who supports the mask mandate expressed concern over the parents’ activism, while essentially telling parents not to let the door hit them on the way out of the district.

Board member Emily Miller said she was upset that her children will likely be bullied by parents who are against masking once the school year begins, but she believes masks will protect the student body. She also told parents if they’re upset, they can take their children elsewhere.

“We are a business. We provide a service,” she said. “If you don’t like Target, you go to Walmart. If you don’t like Menards, you go to Fleet Farm. If you don’t like the rules and the policies we set in place, you have the freedom to go elsewhere.”

Many if not most school districts have already lost students due to the so-called distance learning model that kept kids out of the classroom during much of the pandemic. The enrollment decline and associated loss of state revenue has put a dent in many district’s budgets and future plans. Yet Pine Island appears to be indifferent to the potential financial impact of the backlash to the unpopular mask mandate and defections from the district.

[Pine Island Superintendent Tamara] Champa said if parents decide to take their children out of the district — either through open enrollment to other districts or by home-schooling — she will miss those kids.

“I believe we provide an incredible education here,” she said. “But it saddens me that they wouldn’t be here.”

Not as sad as the budget, program and staff cuts that could follow if some of the scores of parents upset by the mask mandate follow through and enroll their kids in another district more open to letting families make up their own minds on masking.