Students Walk Out of Schools Across the Country Over Mask Mandates

As some states are saying they will soon end mask mandates in schools, others where no plans to end requirements have yet been announced have seen students walking out of classes in protest.

About a dozen states have state-wide mask mandates in schools, according to the nonpartisan National Academy for State Health Policy. But in recent days, the governors in several states have set dates to end mask rules in schools.

Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon on Monday announced plans to end state-wide mask requirements in schools by the end of February or March, citing a decline in the Omicron-fueled surge of COVID cases. Massachusetts and Rhode Island followed suit on Wednesday.

But in states where school mask mandates remain in place— including California, Illinois and Washington—students have staged walkouts and protests this week amid growing frustration over one of the most polarizing issues of the pandemic.

On Monday, a group of students in the Chicago area arrived at school unmasked, issuing a statement via Twitter saying it was "a sign of our desire for freedom from the mask mandate."

Video of some of those students leaving Vernon Hills High School was posted on social media. They said they had been given the choice of putting on masks and attending class, remaining in the gymnasium unmasked or leaving school for a mental health day.

About 25 students at Mundelein High School in Illinois walked out of class on Wednesday, according to CBS Chicago, with students from that school and Warren Township High School rallying outside school buildings to call for mask-wearing to become optional.

In California, hundreds of students at Chino Hills High School protested their school's mask mandate on Tuesday, saying the decision was prompted by viral photos of Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti without masks at the NFC Championship Game last month. A spokesperson for the Chino Valley Unified School District told Newsweek that students who refused to wear a mask indoors were "provided an outdoor learning environment."

Although California on Monday announced plans to end its indoor masking requirement for vaccinated people next week, mask requirements in schools will remain in place.

Meanwhile, students from multiple school districts in Washington staged walkouts this week, according to The Daily Chronicle.

Dozens of students in the Winlock School District walked out and protested in a vacant lot near Winlock Middle and High School on Monday, the newspaper reported.

On Wednesday, a group of students from Ridgefield High School in Washington walked off campus in a protest they hope will prompt state leaders to lift the state's school mask mandate.

"We all believe we should have the freedom to choose whether or not to put a face mask on our face or not," protest organizer Drew Harteloo told KPTV.

A spokesperson for the Ridgefield School District said it supports the right of students to peacefully protest, but that it will continue to require masks in classrooms until the state lifts the mandate.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday said he expects to be able to share a date next week when indoor mask requirements, including at schools, can be lifted.

Face masks sit on a table
Face masks sit on a table outside of Schoolcraft Elementary for students and parents to wear when entering the building on the first day of school on August 30, 2021, in Schoolcraft, Michigan. Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images