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Student holds protest against mask-wearing at high school

Student holds protest against mask-wearing at high school
About 75 students attended the protest Wednesday. Photo courtesy of C. Battenfield.
Brilynn Smith speaks at peaceful protest against mask-wearing. Photo courtesy of C. Battenfield.

By Judy Reed

About 75 students assembled in Red Hawk Stadium at Cedar Springs High School Wednesday to peacefully protest the mask-wearing requirement for in-person learning that has been mandated by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Brilynn Smith, the 18-year-old senior that organized the walk out, told the Post that she did it because she thinks that being forced to wear a mask during the school day is wrong and should be a choice for the students. 

“The only time we can take off the mask is when we are eating in the lunchroom,” she explained.

Smith said she has met several times with CSHS Principal Ron Behrenwald, as well as Superintendent Scott Smith. She said that each time they gave her a lot of information, and initially, she didn’t see anything requiring them to make students wear masks. But after the last updated information, which she was given this week, she saw the school didn’t really have a choice in the matter.

The peaceful protest against mask-wearing was set for 1:40 p.m. Brilynn gave a speech outlining her reasons for organizing it. She talked about a 14-year-old old girl who spoke at the Capitol last week about family and friends committing suicide due to restrictions such as mask-wearing during the pandemic. 

“I’m not saying to get rid of them completely,” she explained “Just to let it be a choice.”

She also noted that she has gotten called names—uneducated, hypocrite and more—in retaliation for the protest. In fact, there was a small group of students that heckled her at the event.

“Those that were there in favor of the protest and not wearing masks were very respectful,” she told the Post. “But those not in favor of the protest were very disrespectful and that was kind of disappointing.”

During the protest she said that there weren’t a lot of people standing up there today, but there were some who were afraid they wouldn’t be protected from missing class or not doing homework to attend. Brilynn said she was assured by Mr. Behrenwald that none of the students who participated in the 20-minute protest would be arbitrarily marked down in their classes. 

She also said that Principal Behrenwald and Supt. Smith were connecting her with both the Kent County Health Department and Rep. Mark Huizenga. “It’s not just about our school,” said Brilynn. “It’s also about opening up our state. I’ll continue to fight for that.”

Superintendent Scott Smith issued a press release about the peaceful protest, explaining their position. 

“Throughout the pandemic, Cedar Springs Public Schools has abided by all of the Executive Orders issued by Governor Whitmer and the Emergency Orders issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). As promised in our State mandated ‘Return to Learn’ Plan, the District has also followed recommendations from various experts, including the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Kent County Health Department (KCHD), and Spectrum Health.

“Cedar Springs Public Schools strives to provide our students with engaging learning experiences in safe environments. Many of our students, families, and staff believe in-person learning experiences are critical to academic, emotional, and social development. The extraordinary efforts of our students, families, and staff have enabled us to provide in-person learning experiences and extracurricular activities throughout the 2020-2021 school year.

“We are currently following the latest order issued by the MDHHS, which will remain in effect through April 19, 2021. Under this order, all persons learning in-person or engaging in extracurricular activities must wear a face mask unless medical reasons do not allow them to do so safely.

“We have students who are passionate about world issues. They are leaders in our classrooms and future leaders in our community. Learning to express their differences in a peaceful way is an essential lesson in Democracy. We hope today’s event has made our students feel valued and allowed voices to be heard on both sides of the mask issue. Cedar Springs Public Schools will continue to follow Executive Orders as stated above.”

The Post attempted to attend this event, but was told no press was allowed. Supt. Smith explained that it was not a public event, but a student-led event during the school day, and that there are restrictions on visitors to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. We were, however, able to speak to the organizer afterward and view a video taken at the event. Parents were also not allowed to view the protest.

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