‘Enough is enough’: At parents’ urging, some La Jolla Elementary School students unmask in class

Some parents at La Jolla Elementary School had their children remove their masks Feb. 17.
Some parents at La Jolla Elementary School had their children remove their masks Feb. 17 as a protest against continued mandates.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

To hammer home their displeasure with the continued indoor mask mandate in public schools, a few La Jolla Elementary School parents had their children unmask Feb. 17 and refuse to comply with the policy.

The protest was organized by La Jollan Jeff Holman in response to the state’s announcement this week that schoolchildren will have to stay masked indoors until at least Monday, Feb. 28.

The San Diego Unified School District, which operates the five public schools in La Jolla, lifted its outdoor mask mandate effective Feb. 16 but said masks still would be required indoors at schools at least until the end of the month.

Meanwhile, the state this week changed its mask rule for the general public to allow people who are vaccinated against COVID-19 to be unmasked indoors in most public places, except for settings such as hospitals, nursing homes and public transportation.

Holman used social media posts and emails to fellow La Jolla Elementary parents to encourage them to have their children remove their masks at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 17 and refuse to put them back on when instructed.

“If they face disciplinary action, so be it,” Holman’s message said. “Please join us in standing up to end this unfair continuation of a nonsensical policy that harms our children.”

“Enough is enough,” Holman told the La Jolla Light. “People are just done, and this ‘two more weeks’ … we’ve been hearing that for two years now.”

The social networking site Nextdoor later deleted Holman’s post and notified him that the post “was determined to be a violation of our community guidelines on our coronavirus misinformation policy.”

Holman said his second-grade son and fifth-grade daughter participated in the protest, along with another student. The three children were taken to the school office and asked to sit outside to finish their schoolwork. They were dismissed normally at the end of the school day.

Holman’s daughter said she felt “it was important for me to participate in this because … adults didn’t have to wear their masks in their workspaces but children still have to in school.”

She said the disparity “doesn’t make any logical sense to me because children are less affected by COVID than adults.”

She said she was originally conflicted about participating, but ultimately feels “like I did the right thing. … I’m really proud of myself.”

LJES Principal Stephanie Hasselbrink said she was unable to confirm how many students participated but added that she’s “concerned that our students and staff are being put in the middle of an issue that has nothing to do with our mission of educating our students.”

“Like all schools in San Diego Unified, La Jolla Elementary follows the California Department of Public Health’s guidance for K-12 schools, which requires all individuals to be masked while indoors in a school setting,” Hasslebrink said.

She said LJES staff provides its students “with a supportive, loving environment. I have never seen a team that cares more about children and families.”

Holman said he had expected his kids to face disciplinary action for the “willful disobedience,” but later he was unsure whether any action would be taken.

According to San Diego Unified spokesman Mike Murad, all parents signed a form at the beginning of the school year acknowledging that “by selecting onsite instruction, parents/guardians and students are committing to abide by the current public health orders, requirements, rules, regulations and guidelines directed by the California Department of Public Health, San Diego County Public Health Department, the district and other government authorities to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

Students who do not follow the mask mandate are to be sent home, according to the agreement. Murad was unable to immediately answer whether disciplinary action would follow.

Parents who oppose the mask mandate can transition their children to independent study off campus, Hasselbrink said.

Candace Barry, whose two sons attend LJES in second and fourth grades, said she instructed her children to participate in the unmasking protest because “our children have been the least affected by this pandemic since the very, very beginning. So how is it that they are the only ones who are still being mandated to cover their faces?”

Her sons ultimately did not participate, she said. One was outdoors in P.E. class at the time and the other chose at the last minute not to take part.

District officials and parents who support the mandate say it helps slow the spread of the coronavirus and thus helps keep schools open for in-person instruction.

But Holman said it’s “shameful that we’ve collectively tolerated” mask mandates for so long. “Our children will ask us in 10 years how we could have been so apathetic,” he said.

Holman said he will keep his children in school and not opt for independent study, though he hopes protests like this “will be enough to get the state to act.” ◆