Mask mandate protest gets out of hand at Sherwood High School
A protest against mask requirements at Sherwood High School on Tuesday morning, Feb. 8, developed into a confrontation that school officials described as "not safe."
As a result of the combative demonstration, in which students encouraged by adult protesters at the scene tried to enter the high school without wearing masks, the Sherwood School District said Tuesday evening that it is changing its procedures to restrict protest activity on school campuses.
"This morning, what happened at the high school was not peaceful, was not safe for students or staff, and disrupted the operations of the school," said Superintendent Heather Cordie in a letter to the community.
She continued, "As a result, going forward we have to take a different approach which continues to allow students their right to protest, but creates a safer environment for all present."
The district said that starting Wednesday, Feb. 9, parents are welcome to drop off or pick up their students via designated drop-off lanes and may visit any school if they have an appointment with school staff.
However, according to the district, adults wishing to protest will need to do so off-campus, such as on sidewalks in front of the schools, rather than on school property.
"Additionally, we will continue to have an increased staff presence at the entryways of our secondary schools in the event that a second day of protests occur," Cordie wrote.
Video footage of the protest posted by Free Oregon, an activist group that encourages people to defy Oregon's indoor mask mandate, shows several dozen students crowding in Sherwood High's entryway. An adult in the video says staff members have locked the doors so they can't enter through the inner set of doors without wearing their masks.
At one point in the video, adult protesters can be heard encouraging students to enter the school unmasked through a side entrance. Others suggest they put on their masks to go into the school, then take them off once they are inside.
The video ends with many students donning masks and being allowed into the school.
Cordie said protests were held Tuesday at both Sherwood High and Sherwood Middle School.
"The information shared by organizers of the event indicated the demonstrations would be peaceful, students would protest at their respective schools, and when not allowed to enter school students would then go to the district office to continue to protest."
The district set aside spaces at each school for students to protest and parents were allowed to join them on campus.
According to Cordie, staff and administrators were "instructed, and encouraged, to support the students' right to protest peacefully."
While the demonstration at Sherwood Middle School was peaceful, Cordie wrote, that wasn't the case at Sherwood High.
"Multiple adults, including some who are not Sherwood residents, called for students to force their way into the school, unmasked," Cordie wrote. "In response, students crowded into the front entry vestibule, with some instigating physically aggressive contact towards SHS and district staff members."
While the letter describes the protest as "not peaceful" and "not safe," it does not state whether anyone was injured.
The video uploaded to Instagram and YouTube by Free Oregon does not appear to show any physical contact between students and staff, although the videographer's view of the doors is obstructed throughout most of the video.
Cordie did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story. Pamplin Media Group has also reached out to the Sherwood Police Department, which had officers present at the high school on Tuesday morning.
The district will review information related to the Feb. 8 disturbance and determine appropriate consequences for students identified in violation of school rules and policies, Cordie wrote.
"Our greatest hope is that today was an anomaly based on heightened emotions, and that if students protest again, they will do so safety and peacefully," the superintendent added.
Editor's note: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story misidentified the group that posted video of the event to social media. The group is Free Oregon. The story has been corrected.
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