Lauren Becerra hoped that this school year would be a return to normal for her 6-year-old son, Steven.
“He was ready to go, we got him school supplies and a backpack, and then we found out he had to be masked up,” Becerra, of Eldorado, said of the statewide mandate requiring unvaccinated kids to wear masks in public school. “He wants to go to school, but we won’t send him with a mask. Now he is going to be home again.”
Becerra was among 35 people who gathered Saturday at Alta Vista Street and St. Francis Drive to protest school mask mandates, as coronavirus cases continue to surge. Similar protests were held across the state.
“It’s this fake flu they are putting our children through,” said Becerra’s mother, Beverly Cordova. “To require masks on everybody, whether you are vaccinated or not, is discrimination. They are bullying us.”
On Monday, the state Public Education Department released its COVID-19 safety guidelines, which ease face mask requirements for vaccinated students in middle and high school. Yet the state will continue to require masks in elementary schools.
“We’re pushing for NO mask mandates for schools,” Sarah Smith, one of the organizers of the protests, said in an email. “Kids are suffering from numerous health issues related to the masks, including blacking out, nosebleeds, vomiting, dizziness, headaches, and anxiety.”
“Kids can’t breathe,” Santa Fe resident David Mulberry said of masks.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “The vast majority of children age 2 or older can safely wear face masks for extended periods of time, such as the school day or at child care.”
Many at the protest in Santa Fe held signs displaying anti-mask and anti-vaccination statements. One woman, wearing green medical scrubs, held a homemade T-shirt that read: “Depriving your child of Oxygen is ABUSE. Sincerely, Registered Nurse.”
“We’re used to the [middle] fingers,” another protester said of the anger expressed by drivers passing by.
Kristi Dyer, who organized the Santa Fe event, said the movement against mask mandates has continued to grow over
At least three teachers from Santa Fe schools came to protest the mask requirement.
Many at the event shared concerns about the legitimacy of the pandemic, the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, and the perceived profiteering of pharmaceutical companies.
“It’s not a vaccine,” David Gordon said. “It’s a genetic experiment.”
On Thursday, the state Department of Health reported 401 new cases of the coronavirus, the most infections in a single day in five months. July saw a steady rise in cases, largely spurred by the highly infectious delta variant, which health experts say could be particularly damaging in communities with low vaccination rates.
For Becerra and others at the event, vaccination is not an option.
“He is not getting it, ever,” Becerra said of her son, citing concerns over the lack of Food and Drug Administration approval of the vaccine. “None of us are.”