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MHS Students Walk Out to Protest Lifting Mask Mandate

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Group of teenagers in a sidewalk holding a sign.
20 new cases at Montpelier High School have been reported this week, following the lifting of the mask mandate. On March 2, about two dozen MHS students walked out of school to protest the lifting of a school-wide mask mandate with concerns about an outbreak at the school, and fears of students bringing COVID home to their families. From left: Halle Fulton, Vivian Thomas, Izabelle Shrout, and Alex Brush. Photo by John Lazenby.
by Lauren Milideo

On Wednesday morning at Montpelier High School, two students sat, laughing, on a bench by the main office, one masked, one not. Two others, both masked, appeared, one carrying a sign reading “SAFETY BEFORE NORMALCY” in red letters. Another student, unmasked, walked past. 

At 9:50 a.m., the auditorium doors opened and several students emerged, carrying signs proclaiming demands. Their concern: loosening COVID safety protocols.

Heading over the Winooski River and down slushy State Street, ninth-grader Key Shrout, hefting a sign reading “Protect our community,” noted, “(I’m) out here because students in school didn’t really get the option to decide whether it was an okay decision to bring down the mask mandate.” Shrout added legislators, who are not in schools, lack understanding of the risks and stress students face.

Tenth-grader Payton Roberts said, “I feel like we should’ve at least gotten a say in the lifting of the mask mandate … My teacher was pretty understanding when I told them about [the walkout].”

Eleventh-grader Pavol Evans, holding a “Safety B4 normalcy” sign, noted, “Masks prevent spread of COVID.” Evans’ teacher, too, simply said “OK” when Evans left to protest.

Ninth-grader Vivian Thomas joined the march out of safety concerns. Living with a grandparent during COVID is a worry for Thomas, whose grandmother is already at risk because of her job.

Eleventh-grader Halle Fulton was marching for a specific reason: “That I was just uncomfortable with the fact that the mask mandate was being lifted.” Fulton added that disabled people “are going to be hurt by this and how insensitive it is.” 

“And disrespectful,” chimed in Thomas, walking at Fulton’s side. Fulton agreed.

Arriving at City Hall Auditorium, co-organizer Izabelle Shrout spoke about the “ignorance of those who stand in higher power,” noting the CDC encourages masking when COVID spread is high (on CDC’s most recent map, Washington County remained a “high” community level area, with masks recommended indoors). Shrout added, “I could lose my [immunocompromised] mother, the only person who has been there since day one.” 

Shrout read the group’s school demands: (1) Requiring masks; (2) Enforcing this mandate; (3) Surveillance testing; (4) Contact tracing reinstated; (5) Safer lunch spaces; (6) Pay for teachers who miss work for COVID; and (7) A say in “future decisions about COVID protocols.”

Co-organizer Alex Brush took the microphone. “Everyone knows someone who is immunocompromised,” Brush said, adding “Teachers and students deserve to be safe at school.” Brush said it is not possible to learn in a school that is not safe, and that students and teachers should have a say in what that looks like. After students passed the microphone, Brush led a chant: “What do we want?” “Safety at our schools!” “When do we want it?” “Now!”

The group then cranked Queen’s “We Will Rock You” before marching back.

While drivers honked and offered thumbs-ups out windows, not everyone has been supportive, noted Brush, who has received negative messages following walkout-related Instagram and Front Porch Forum posts. “I’ve gotten numerous grown adults diagnosing me with mental disorders,” Brush said, saying they have been “belittled and talked down to from the community about this.”

Asked if there’s been more pushback or support from the community, Brush noted, “Personally I’ve perceived more pushback from emails and DMs and stuff.” But, Brush added, “The support is more important than the pushback.”

Editor’s Note: The editor of this publication is the parent of Alex Brush.

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