Parents and students who stayed home or walked out Friday gathered in front of Warsaw Community High School to protest the mask mandate that started at Warsaw Community Schools Friday. Photo by Jackie Gorski, Times-Union.
Parents and students who stayed home or walked out Friday gathered in front of Warsaw Community High School to protest the mask mandate that started at Warsaw Community Schools Friday. Photo by Jackie Gorski, Times-Union.
On the first day of the mask mandate at Warsaw Community Schools Friday, there was a protest before school and a walkout organized for 10 a.m.

Friday also was the second day of protest, with a protest at Warsaw Community High School Thursday morning and another outside the county courthouse Thursday evening.

The protests and walkout were due to a decision Tuesday by Warsaw School Board to make masks mandatory by a vote of 5-1 after an executive order from Gov. Eric Holcomb last week essentially giving school corporations two options when it came to masks.

According to a statement released by Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert, published in Thursday’s Times-Union, “the masking requirement will be deployed whenever Kosciusko County is in the orange or red zone according to the Indiana State Department of Health. When Kosciusko County is in the yellow zone for two consecutive weeks, masks will return to recommended, but optional.”

Friday morning, Hoffert said the WCS administration was aware of about six students who walked out at WCHS. Dr. Dani Barkey, assistant superintendent of secondary schools, said one student walked out at Lakeview Middle School. The administration was not aware of any other students walking out at any other schools at that time.

A group of parents and students who walked out or stayed home Friday gathered outside of WCHS at 10 a.m.

Tru-lea Mote said she decided to walk out of WCHS Friday because she’s tired of being controlled more and more by the government.

Zack Harkness said when he walked out Friday, it wasn’t that exciting. He said he was in yearbook and he noticed it was 10 a.m., so he packed up all his things, turned off his computer and walked out. He doesn’t even think his teacher noticed. He walked out because he doesn’t feel like students should be forced to wear masks. He wants the mask mandate to get lifted.

Hoffert said the administration had seen some signs of a walkout prior to it happening. He said that was why several administration members were outside WCHS Friday because “we just want to make sure students stay safe.”

Bishop Hudson said he wasn’t wearing a mask during school Friday when one of his teachers pulled him aside about it. He said he respectfully declined to wear a mask. He walked to the office where he expressed his opinion on the mask mandate and was given a slip to go to the attendance office and was told he could put on a mask or he would have to go home. He said masks shouldn’t be forced on students, noting he understands if students want to do so. He said he was technically kicked out, instead of walking out.

Parent Jody Cox said there is a time and place for masks. The county was in blue in January and May and the students still had to wear masks, so she asked when the mask mandate stops. She said she was there supporting the walkout Friday. She hopes the legislators put guidelines in and takes away Holcomb’s emergency powers. “It isn’t against the school board, it’s against the governor’s stipulations,” she said.

Hoffert said WCS has a long-standing policy for student walkouts because it is a disruption to the student educational environment. The student is considered truant because they are missing instructional time.

Before school began Friday, a group of students and parents protested outside of WCHS, starting at 7 a.m.

Student Jaxson Hastings said he was the student that started the protests and he texted two parents, Hanna Hodge and another parent by the name of Leslie, and wondered if they would help them out. At the protest before school Friday, he said there were already people that were planning things, but they couldn’t do anything due to sports activities. Hastings said he took the idea and ran with it.

He said he had nothing to do with organizing the walkout, which was posted on social media.

“I’m not against masks, I’m not against vaccines, I’m not against social distancing. What I am against is not being able to have the choice. It should have been left as a choice to begin with,” Hastings said. “There is no reason that we should not have a choice in what we do.”

He said he’s hoping people will realize masks should be a choice and not a mandate.

For people on the opposite side, he said, “Come out and talk to us. Instead of bashing us, come out and talk to us. We’ll have a conversation. But you will not change my mind on this situation."

He noted people on the opposite side haven’t really come out and talked to them, but they have had a lot of support of people honking when driving by. He planned on participating in the walkout.

Hastings said there are plans on protesting every day before school until the mask mandate is changed.

Parent Josh Ogden said he was protesting before school Friday “because this country is a country based on individuality, freedom of choice to decide what for us and our families is best. Our Constitution provides the right that we have to make decisions medically for ourselves and to do what is best for us. That’s the way it’s always been.”

Odgen said, recently, people have lost sight of the liberty and freedom the country has. The protesters were out Friday in hopes to give at least one person the courage to stand up because there’s a lot of fear in the country and authoritarianism that’s rising up.

“It’s time to show the people that we can fight” and show people they can stand up for what they believe, Odgen said.

Jeanne Beery said it’s just a step to another agenda. If it’s not stopped now, it’s going to extend to forced vaccinations without a parent’s consent.

Ogden said he has children at Warsaw Schools, who didn’t go to school Friday. He said they are looking at their options this weekend.

When asked what would happen if students didn’t wear masks, Hoffert said there were little to no issues at any of the schools Friday morning.

“Our students really want to be here in school. We understand that nobody really wants to wear a mask. But the number one priority is to provide in-person education,” Hoffert said. He wanted to stress no enjoys having to wear a mask “but we know sometimes there are limited options to be able to keep in-person, physical education going and again, we’re going to do what we need to do to provide that for our community.”

Hoffert said WCS has seen very few students be taken out of WCS due to the mask mandate.

“Again, we highly respect their decision-making. They need to do what’s best for their family and kids and we respect them greatly in their choices. Again, our goal is to make sure we provide a safe environment for our community,” Hoffert said.

In a statement Friday, Hoffert said there are no funds (grants, education fund or operation funds) linked to any mask mandates. For application of federal funds, all schools, including WCS, had to submit a reopening plan, which was approved by the Board in June. The reopening plan submitted was mask optional at the time and was fully approved. These Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds are federal dollars that have been paid for the COVID stipend for all employees, employee COVID sick days last year, personal protection equipment, etc. WCS’ CARES Act dollars (ESSER) funds are not linked to a mask mandate and never have been.