After the Natrona County School Board voted against requesting a variance from the Wyoming Department of Health to remove the mask mandate for the remainder of the school year, a group of parents have decided to take matters into their own hands.

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Jamie Bates is one of those parents.

Bates, a mother of 3, started an online group designed for parents who are against the mask mandate to come together and discuss the struggles and possible next steps when it comes to the ordinances.

The Facebook group, called ‘NCSD Variance Discussion,’ is just that – a discussion. It’s a safe space for parents to share thoughts, opinions, concerns, and more when it comes to the effects that they believe wearing a mask has on their children.

The group, consisting of almost 900 people, was created after a survey was issued to NCSD parents, asking their opinion on the mask mandate.

The survey showed that, among 4,537 respondents, 80% of parents and 75% of staff wanted the mask mandate abolished.

19% of parents said they wanted to keep the mandate.

However, 205 parents said that if the mask mandate was removed, they would take their children out of school.

"Our frustration was that they chose to go with the survey of 200 people who said they might consider removing their kids from school if they requested the variance,” Bates stated. “That’s kind of where it started. And then, all the comments on the different news media sites, I felt like we needed a place for those who felt frustrated and that we needed a space where we weren’t going to be trolled, where we can discuss what we wanted to do next. So I created a Facebook group and it’s morphed into a whole lot more than I anticipated.”

That “whole lot more,” is actually a protest that will occur on Monday, April 26 during the NCSD Board of Trustees meeting.

“At this point, our desire is just to have a show of solidarity,” Bates said. “We really want the masks gone and we want to make it clear to our school board that we want the masks gone. It’s not just the 20 or 30 parents who showed up at the last meeting. We’re there, we’re present, and we want [the masks] gone. And so do our kids.”

Wyatt [last name redacted] is one of those kids. He is a senior with the Pathways Innovation Center and is one of the students who is organizing ‘No Mask Monday,” a separate demonstration, this time from the students’ perspective.

According to Wyatt, ‘No Mask Monday’ is going to be just that – a day in which students who oppose the mask mandate simply show up sans mask... or don't show up at all.

“We’re hoping to achieve just getting rid of masks at school, or at least make them optional” Wyatt stated.

He said that those who choose to participate aren’t planning on linking arms or making speeches or even really drawing attention to the fact that they disagree with the mandate.

“I feel like if we just go in without our masks and go to class just like normal, that’s going to make a bigger impact than going out to the front of the school with signs and having the threat of it getting violent.”

Bates said that her children, as well, disagree with the mask ordinance currently in place.

“My kids have actually been anti-mask the whole time,” she stated. “They don’t like them. They take them off the moment they can get them off. They don’t like the way they can’t breathe."

Bates pointed to the alleged physical limitations she believes mask impart upon students, but she also addressed the potential mental health aspects of wearing a mask.

“My oldest said that she always loves seeing people smile and now she doesn’t see anybody smile anymore,” she said. “She’s a very cheerful, bubbly person and she’s said ‘I’ve never been more depressed in my life, but this is depressing. I don’t get to see anybody smile, I don’t get to hug them at all. I want to finish my senior year with smiles.’”

Smiles have certainly been lacking during the past two school years, due to COVID-19 and all of the consequences the pandemic has produced. Emotions are running high and many people are looking for something, or someone, to be angry with.

“As a high school student, I feel like it’s a different point of view than if you’re adult,” Chloe, a 9th grader at Kelly Walsh High School stated. “I really feel that students have a hard time, especially now, expressing their opinions and standing up for what they believe in and voicing what they believe in, because some kids get bullied over it.”

Chloe, herself, said that after sharing a graphic she created in support of ‘No Mask Monday’ on her Snapchat, she was the recipient of multiple messages in which she was bullied. She said that some users even reported her account, resulting in its suspension for a 12-hour period.

“I always say ‘treat others the way you want to be treated,’” she said. “You have to have respect for the other side because there’s really no right or wrong. Everyone has their own opinion, and I think it’s important for people to stand up for themselves, but you don’t need to use hurtful words or make them feel bad about their opinions.”

That idea is what resulted in the ‘NCSD Variance Discussion’ group in the first place. Bates said it was designed to be a place to discuss a controversial issue. She hopes the demonstration on April 26 will also be less of a ‘protest’ and more of a discussion.

“I think everybody deserves the right to be able to choose and make a decision of what’s best for them, based off of their own personal physical and mental health, as well as their own opinions,” Bates stated. “At this point, we have a wide range of educational options. We have a lot of information available to us and we all need to be able to respect each other’s right to choose.”

Below is the video broadcast of the NCSD School Board meeting, in which the mask mandate vote was discussed:

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