Following a political back-and-forth prior to the Memorial Day weekend, nearly 100 Treasure Valley parents and students met in front of the Capitol Building on Tuesday morning to protest mask mandates in the state.
Last Thursday, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin signed an executive order prohibiting mask mandates in Idaho, including schools. McGeachin was acting as the governor as Gov. Brad Little was in Nashville, Tenn., attending and speaking at a Republican Governors Association spring conference.
Exactly 24 hours later, Little rescinded the order retroactive to Thursday morning.
Tim Harris, who has students in West Ada’s Hillsdale Elementary and Siena Elementary, said he was given inspiration from McGeachin’s executive order. West Ada still requires masks be worn while indoors, but masks were optional on Friday following McGeachin’s executive order.
“I feel comfortable standing out and saying what I feel,” Harris said.
With just seven days left before summer break in West Ada, Harris said students have missed out on too much of the year already.
“Our littles deserve better than that,” he said.
West Ada is one of the last remaining school districts that hasn’t started summer break yet. It is also one of the few remaining school districts where masks are required indoors (Boise School District also closed the school year with masks required). Nampa, Idaho Falls and Pocatello-Chubbuck all made masks optional in May.
Braden Watson, a 16-year-old sophomore in the Nampa School District, said he was disappointed that more people didn’t show up to the protest.
“Some people are terrified of speaking out,” he said.
Amy Hendry, who has two children in Nampa School District, said mask requirements have been very detrimental to her children this year. Hendry said a bullying incident involving her daughter got out of hand because the school was having trouble telling certain children apart due to the masks and the limited classroom time due to the hybrid schedule earlier in the year.
Hendry also pointed out a question that’s come up recently at board meetings: Why now?
Hendry said her inspiration to protest comes from seeing her daughter leave school with a group of friends after the district made masks optional.
“The kids were elated,” Hendry said. “It was the first time in my daughter’s sixth-grade year that I saw her leave the school with people. She was so happy.”
Hendry said she believes that students are wearing masks because they are afraid of repercussions from teachers and school administrators and even some of their peers. She said there is segregation in schools right now between those wearing masks and those who do not.
Also speaking on Tuesday were multiple students. Nine-year-old Bethany Young said she misses seeing her friends faces and spends her recesses alone so she can be unmasked.
McGeachin closed the protest with remarks of her own, taking the opportunity to fire back at Little. On Friday, Little called McGeachin’s executive order an “irresponsible abuse of power” that “amounts to tyranny.”
McGeachin responded to Little’s comments, saying that the true tyranny came from Little’s office, when he signed the public health order into effect on March 25, 2020.
“I also wanted to offer some advice to our governor,” McGeachin said. “That choking out and poisoning tens of thousands of innocent children is not governing.”