Enterprise High School students push back against adults’ resistance to K-12 statewide mask mandate
Utah schools report widespread compliance to mandate, but a few sent students home for not wearing masks
ENTERPRISE, Washington County — After the COVID-19 pandemic brought her junior year track season and academic year to a sudden halt, Enterprise High School senior Dallee Cobb has a whole new appreciation for school and the activities she loves.
She’s a cheerleader, throws javelin and is a member of her school’s HOPE squad. When she and other students got word of a planned protest in St. George against the statewide mask mandate in Utah’s public schools, they feared they might have to sit out another term of school if enough people refused to comply with the public health order and COVID-19 cases started to mount.
So they literally took a stand, speaking out prior to the start of their high’s football game against South Sevier on Friday night to urge community members to do their part to help curb the spread of coronavirus.
First, Cobb thanked the community for its support “in the midst of all crazy uncertainty.”
The high school is doing its best to ensure an amazing senior season, she said, “but they can’t do it alone.”
Flanked by the school’s senior athletes, she and senior football player Adam Holt called on their small town to help by wearing masks.
“We, of all people, know that wearing a mask is not fun. Neither is wearing a seat belt or a life jacket or pads for football, but we do all these things so we have a future,” she said.
“We ask that you put your mask on so we can get our game on,” she said.
In an interview Monday, Cobb said she was a bit scared speaking out before the football game, worried there could be a backlash. A video shared on social media shows fans settling into the bleachers prior to the game with several adult attendees not wearing masks.
But she felt it was important to remind adults in the community what was at stake for students, she said. The students also took to social media over the weekend to discourage parents from organizing a #NoMaskMonday protest.
“It’s sad to say, but the parents that are doing this, they aren’t us,” she said, noting that students repeatedly shared with parents a classmate’s Instagram post that expressed their viewpoint.
“They don’t understand our lives. This is our life. We go to school and we come home, do homework, help around the house and hang out with our friends. We don’t have taxes or kids to worry about. If school gets taken away, that’s 99% of our lives. ... I just want to make the best of what we’re given.”
“If school gets taken away, that’s 99% of our lives. ... I just want to make the best of what we’re given.”— Dallee Cobb, Enterprise High School senior
Enterprise High School Principal Calvin Holt said when the students came to him and asked to address community members, he was in full support.
“They were concerned what a rebellion against masks was going to do to their opportunities for school and other activities,” he said.
He was especially proud of how the student-athletes handled the social media debate about a possible protest.
“They weren’t bullying or rude or disrespectful. They just told the parents how they felt. It was very positive,” he said.
In the Washington County School District, where hundreds of parents had demonstrated outside the administration office on Friday to call for an end to the statewide mask mandate and there were rumblings about a no-mask Monday, there were just six incidents in which students were sent home with their parents for not wearing masks, said spokesman Steven Dunham.
Three were secondary students and three were elementary school students, he said. About 35,000 attend public schools in Washington County, he said
“We actually had more parents bring doughnuts and thank you notes to our school leaders than we had issues with no masks today, so that was nice,” he said.
On the Wasatch Front, students returned to Granite District schools on Monday and officials reported widespread compliance to the mask mandate.
District spokesman Ben Horsley said he visited several schools and personally reminded just one student to pull his mask up because it wasn’t covering his nose. Otherwise, most students appeared to abide the public health order.
It was also the first day of school in Canyons School District, and district officials started the day with 2,000 students who had not yet declared their preference for in-school learning, online learning or school district guided home schooling, so that presented some challenges, said district spokesman Jeff Haney.
But most students complied with the mask order, though the school district received some phone calls from concerned parents who got calls or messages from their children that not all students were wearing their masks all the time inside school buildings.
“So for the next little while, we’re going to step up our patrolling to make sure that all of our kids are adhering to the order to wear masks,” Haney said.
He said he was unaware of any students who were sent home with their parents because they did not comply with the public health order to wear masks.
Enterprise High School’s Holt said if students showed up to school without a mask, the school would first offer them a mask.
“If they wouldn’t wear it, we’d have had to call their parents to come get them. As much as I don’t like that, it’s the rule, it’s the governor’s rule, and we were prepared to do that,” he said.
After seeing his students’ heartfelt posts on social media urging the wearing of masks, “I wasn’t worried.”
Public schools are subject to public laws, said Mark Peterson, spokesman for the Utah State Board of Education.
“Although parents have substantial rights with regard to the upbringing of their own child, they do not have the right to control the school environment, which impacts the children of so many other parents. The state and local school boards are vested with that authority. The state and local school boards may make laws, rules, and policies of general application for the safety, welfare, and efficient operation of the school system,” Peterson said.
“If a parent would like to enforce a parent’s right to prevent their child from wearing a mask without a proper exemption, they are entitled to do so. However, the child may not attend public school where other people’s children will be impacted by the parent’s decision,” he said.