The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School

Theogony

The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School

Theogony

The Student News Site of Alexandria City High School

Theogony

MASK-ON: ACHS Students Hold Demonstration Against Virginia Mask Mandate Lift

MASK-ON%3A+ACHS+Students+Hold+Demonstration+Against+Virginia+Mask+Mandate+Lift

On Tuesday, March 1, 2022, Virginia Senate Bill 739 went into effect in public schools across the state, removing the mask mandate for students. When word spread about the impending removal in late February, students at Alexandria City High School took it upon themselves to organize a demonstration during Lunch and Learn against the bill’s passage and what it means for the future of COVID-19 policy in Virginia. On social media, in the hallways, and around the city, multiple names were given to the event: a walk-out, a protest, a demonstration, civic obedience. To the organizers and attendees, however, it held much more weight than a Canva poster.

A crowd of around forty people gathers around junior Kate Radt, an organizer, who gives a speech.

“We did originally use the term walk-out, and that’s what a lot of people know it by, but we did change that to demonstration,” said sophomore Eliana Rougle, one of the organizers. The initial flier that spread on Instagram and Twitter used the term ‘walk-out’, as did its updated version. However, another post from the @achswalkout account clarified that the purpose was not to miss class and protest an administration that has largely been in support of masking.

“I think a walk-out inaccurately implies that we are leaving class during the period or being disruptive as we are not, and that’s been one of the primary criticisms against us,” said junior Kate Radt, another organizer, “However, our goal here is not to disrupt the administration, as they are not the ones we are mad at. It’s the state.”

Kate Radt holds a sign proclaiming, “Wear your masks!” in bold text. She sports a tie-dye art mask and sits in a wheelchair.

Three organizers gave speeches on and near the brick platforms surrounding the bus loop. A bare tree sported a “Masks Save Lives!” sign. Students stood and listened during the first half of Lunch and Learn as the demonstration lasted around 30 minutes. 

“We are doing this because we believe in action. We are doing this because we believe in the power of education. We are doing this because we believe in communities coming together. We are doing this because we believe in protecting everyone in every way that we can. We are doing this because we care,” read Mabentie Jabbie, in a speech written by Eliana Rougle. 

Sophomore Mabentie Jabbie, sporting a black medical-mask, reads out a speech surrounding the necessity of mask-wearing. 

Among the criticisms of the event that began to circulate was the potential inefficacy of the idea of the protest, or its necessity in Northern Virginia. Alexandria City has a vaccination rate of 77.6%, the sixteenth highest in the state. 

Junior Jackson Synder chooses to wear a mask for the safety of his high-risk family members but is critical of the demonstration. “We’re one school in Virginia. The mandate being lifted is not just our school, it’s every school. Glenn Youngkin doesn’t care enough about just one school.”

Sophomore Nardos Fenta, who also chooses to wear a mask, said, “I think that the demonstration is stupid, because, even if it’s harmless, you’re wasting your time. Youngkin is not going to change [the bill] based on some kids going out.”

The rationale behind the event for its advocates leaned heavily on the existence of immunocompromised and vulnerable students. 

“I learned about [the bill] on Thursday and I thought it was so messed up,” said sophomore Marco Ramos, another event organizer. “People here have families with low immune systems. It was not right for the governor to be selfish.”

Attendees had a number of reasons as to why they showed up at the demonstration. Sophomore William Reilly said, “I had my grandma pass away a month or two ago from COVID, and I don’t think it’s safe at all to lift this mask mandate.”

“It seems annoying that we have to put our trust into other people for our safety,” said sophomore Maikol Centeno. “If we want to wear masks and they don’t, we can’t do anything about that.”

“I and many other people who are here have immune systems that are low and conditions that if you get sick, you could end up in the hospital easily,” said senior Fiona Stevens, “When people stop wearing masks, that could be a good choice for them, but in making that choice for themselves, they make it for me as well.”

Students, wearing coats and sweaters in the late winter weather, listen to speeches during the demonstration. 

Inside, students have different opinions.

“I am in support of the new law because I think we should be given our choice,” said sophomore Robert Salgado, who stopped wearing a mask to school after the bill went into effect, “If somebody wants to wear one, they should be allowed to, and if someone doesn’t, so should they. Those students have the right to use their voices–it’s good that they’re organizing and they’re doing what they think is right.”

Student organizers of the demonstration pose for a picture. From left to right: Marco Ramos, Marianne Diawara, Francess Pombor, Mabentie Jabbie, Kate Radt, Unnamed student (Chose to remain anonymous for Theogony), Alex Radt, and Eliana Rougle.

For this committee, this is not the end of the journey. Demonstration organizers Alex and Kate Radt are also co-presidents of the Disability and Illness Alliance, and a statement released on the Instagram page reads, “[We want to] encourage students, not only in our district, but hopefully statewide, to continue to wear masks despite the new law.” 

Student organizer junior Alex Radt gives a speech into the megaphone. They wear a white KN-95 mask. 

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