Parents Protest Masks in School

Parents of GAPS meet together to protest masks in schools


Eleanor Peterson

On a cold Friday morning on Feb. 11, a group of parents and their families met on Queen Ave. between Memorial Middle School and West Albany High School to protest Governor Kate Brown’s mask mandate in schools. The parents stood on the side of the road carrying signs that read “Our kids our choice” and “Smiles not masks,” as cars drove by honking in solidarity.

     These parents are part of an organization called “Restore Oregon,” which aims to bring balance to Oregon through activism, fundraising, and petitioning. They hoped to bring attention to the mask mandate in schools and to advocate for parents’ voices in decisions involving their students. 

      “The choice has been taken away from parents,” Restore Oregon member Chelsea James said. “We don’t co-parent with the state or the school board. We should be able to make decisions [about] our children.”

Debbie Rohrbach (left) and Chelsea James (right) outside West Albany High School advocating for parents choices.

     Many of the parents also shared a concern for their younger children and how masks were affecting their ability to socialize and learn in school.

     “When [my daughter is] with her teacher and they’re trying to learn to read, she can’t see her teacher and how she’s talking and forming sounds,” member Sarah Williams said in regards to her daughter. “It affects her learning.” 

Sarah and Charlie Williams and their family gathered on Queen Ave to express their frustrations with the district mask mandate.

     Whether or not masks affect children’s ability to learn is inconclusive. According to a study by Andreja Stajduhar et al, masks hinder children’s facial recognition abilities. However, an article by “Psychology Today,” said the opposite, claiming that masks have no effect on children’s language and emotional development. While watching adults’ mouths has been shown to increase vocabulary in toddlers, it’s not necessary for language development. 

     On Feb. 7, the Oregon Health Authority announced that the mask requirement for indoor public places, such as schools, would lift no later than March 31 and then was recently moved to March 11 with the GAPS school district implementing the new guideline on March 12. Although this would no longer require schools to enforce mask mandates inside, it was not a comfort to these parents.

      “We feel that the unmasking on March 31 is [a way] to make some of the parents happy and quiet them up,” James said. “It’s a temporary thing we feel.”

Parents of GAPS students protested masks in schools outside of West Albany High School.

     Despite this, the parents are holding out hope that masks will no longer be required in schools.

     “I’m hoping that they hear the parents,” James said, “and they [let] medical freedom be a choice for the parents and the children.”