When David Lee addressed the Sahuarita Unified School District Governing Board on Wednesday night, he ended by congratulating the parents who recently protested the mask mandate at Vail Unified School District. A small crowd cheered.
Eleven parents submitted calls to the public and, for the most part, their message was the same: End the mask mandate.
The debate came up at other districts in Pima County last week. On Tuesday, about 100 people showed up in Vail to protest the mask mandate. The VUSD board called sheriff’s deputies and canceled the meeting over safety concerns as some parents pushed their way inside.
Tanque Verde Unified School District canceled its Wednesday meeting on the advice of Pima County Sheriff’s Department, which had received word that protesters planned to attend.
Continental Elementary School District revised its decision to continue the mask mandate after receiving feedback from parents. To compromise, they started to allow children to remove their masks at their desks or on the playground. Masks are required in all other situations.
SUSD, which has chosen to continue to enforce the mask mandate through the end of the school year, was not immune from the ire of parents who believe masks should not be required anymore.
Lee was among seven parents who referenced data and research that they said that proved masks were ineffective.
“Seat belts save lives because there is a national standard…” he said. “We can see 20 different styles of masks just in this room. There’s no standard for masks. We don’t know which masks work.”
Lee said his child was sent home three times this school year due to headaches and dizziness, which he blamed on the mask his son is required to wear. Others also referenced problems with masks.
Another parent said there is no science proving masks work and that her children went from loving school to hating it because of the mandate. She believes masks have dangerous chemicals and kids are getting sick from the masks themselves.
“If you hold a mask up to the light, you can see holes in the mask. You can’t see COVID,” she said. “If I wore a mask and got COVID it proves it doesn’t work. Enough is enough, the emergency is over.”
Most speakers indicated their children’s mental health has taken a hit because of the masks. Several turned their distrust to the CDC, Pima County and other leaders.
Chad McBroom, who declined to stop speaking after his two minutes were up, said the CDC could not be trusted and that every morning his daughter wakes up crying and begs not to go to school.
“I’ve watched over the past years as her innocence and joy have been stolen by the very people entrusted with her protection,” he said. “She suffers acute anxiety and every minute her face is covered is torture.”
He called the mandate illegal.
Gov. Ducey’s latest action regarding masks at schools gave districts the authority to continue enforcing mandates.
“K-12 school districts and charter schools still maintain the right to institute and enforce policies to mitigate against COVID-19 spread, including the use of masks,” the order reads.
Sahuarita High School Principal John Kneup was the lone voice in the call to the public in support of masks. Kneup spoke about getting COVID-19 in December along with his wife. He said it was the first time in his life he thought he was going to die.
“The governor lifted the mask mandate and I’m grateful the district made the decision to require students to wear masks,” he said. “It makes me feel safer, makes my staff feel safer, makes my kids feel safer. Many parents feel that way.”
Four emailed comments opposed masks.
Superintendent Manny Valenzuela focused his regular “road back” report on masks. He said SUSD will continue to enforce masks until the end of the school year on May 20.
Valenzuela said during the meeting that the district hopes and anticipates masks will be optional or not required when the fall semester begins.
“That’s our target goal, to come back in fall where we’re in a position to say masks are optional or not required,” he said. “I think given the dynamic and uncertain nature of the last 14 months it would be unreasonable to say ‘yes’ three months away, but I can say it’s foreseeable and anticipated.”
Valenzuela said the board was aware of the Vail meeting and contacted Sahuarita Police Department to discuss safety. SPD was at the meeting and visible as a precaution.
As far as what it will take to remove the mask requirement, Valenzuela said they continue to review the data, continuing a slow and steady approach and guidance from health leaders.
“We need to keep our resolve and focus on finishing the school year strong with all our elements of mitigation,” he said.
Video of the meeting is available on Sahuarita Unified School District’s Youtube page, along with all their other school board meetings.