DOUGLAS — Roni VanOsdol is fighting a battle she may or may not win against mask mandates, but she believes it’s worth the war.
Specifically, she opposes forcing
students to wear masks inside Douglas schools.
Her efforts have not been met with much enthusiasm among health and school officials, who say masks are necessary to control the virus’ spread and save lives. They are required in certain settings, including in schools, under state health orders and guidelines.
VanOsdol, who has five children, contends her kids, four of whom attend Douglas schools, shouldn’t have to wear masks, and entities enforcing that rule are infringing on her family’s rights.
She started a petition drive at Change.org in August, asking those who agree to sign their names in support. As of Sept. 20, the petition had garnered 243 signatures.
VanOsdol also protested perceived infringement of rights on the steps of the capitol building in Cheyenne on Sept. 19, where approximately 30 people in the group held up signs reading “Masks have no place in our schools,” “My health, my choice,” “When tyranny becomes law, rebellion becomes duty,” and others.
The group isn’t insisting all people should stop wearing masks, she said, nor that all children attending local schools shouldn’t mask up.
What VanOsdol and her compatriots are suggesting is that parents should have the right to raise their children how they see fit and to make decisions regarding their own and their family’s health and well-being.
“I don’t wear a mask, I don’t put my kids in masks. It is my choice to send my children to school wearing masks or not. I have the right to do so for my family, to take care of my family, teach them to be healthy and to make healthy choices.
“Everyone does have free will to make their bodies healthy. Why isn’t that taken into consideration when people are made to wear masks? Why isn’t [getting healthy] a requirement? Eat well, rest, exercise. I’d rather live my live freely and enjoy it, and if I die, then I guess it’s time for me to go home,” VanOsdol said.
She said her son, whom she declined to name, was refused admittance at Douglas High School for not wearing a mask, even with a doctor’s note addressing his health issues — which she insisted would be complicated by wearing a mask.
VanOsdol said she’s reached out to school board members and presented her concerns to them during a school board meeting earlier this month, but she’s disappointed by the lack of response.
“I’ve spoken with several individually, and I’ve been pushing for an actual public meeting. The school is refusing. I’m getting different answers from each board member as to who is making the mandates. We’ve asked for them to talk to us, but they won’t,” she said.
She said her efforts to set up a meeting as a forum for discussion between parents and school board members have been stonewalled.
“There are other school districts in our state that are not enforcing the face covering to such a degree as Converse County School District No. 1. There is supporting data that shows enforcing these masks on our children is bringing not only adverse medical well-being, but mental harm to them,” she said. “It’s our responsibility as parents, educators, general health and mental health providers, and as a community, to make sure our children are sound in every way possible.”
She compared coronavirus to the flu and said it is not threatening to healthy adults or children.
“We don’t do this with influenza, the flu, which kills a lot of people. At the least I would like to see people’s rights given back. Wearing a mask is all based on a theory. I feel like masking our healthy population is not the answer,” she stated.
In her opinion, the cons of wearing masks definitely outweighs any pros.
“I’ve heard of a lot of kids who come home with headaches, face rashes, respiratory infections. I’ve read of increased risks of bacterial infections being related to masks, kids getting dizzy. I’ve heard from parents here that kids are getting bullied,” she said. “A teacher told my son to get his mask back on. He told them he had a note, but the teacher told him he was ridiculous.
“Kids are being told they’ll get sent to the principal’s office if they don’t put their masks on. No kid wants to get sent to the principal’s office.”
Douglas School District Superintendent Paige Fenton-Hughes said the school district values input from community members, “however, there are limitations to the decisions the district has control over at this time. Face coverings when six feet of social distancing is not possible are required in schools by state health orders — which were just extended for two more weeks.”
Fenton-Hughes said she is aware of VanOsdol’s petition.
She pointed out that, since May, the district has worked diligently to put a plan in place to allow students to come back safely to school in person.
“Our administrators, teachers and support staff are working beyond their normal duties to ensure our kids and staff are safe,” she said. “Our teachers are teaching in class and online so families have a choice. Our coaches are going above and beyond to try to keep our activities up and running. Nutrition staff are feeding all children free breakfast and lunch if they want it. Our custodians are making sure our buildings are sanitized and safe.
“It’s a team effort,” Fenton-Hughes said, referencing the approximately 1,600 students plus teachers and support staff.
Converse County Public Health Nurse Manager Darcey Cowardin said she wants to remind people that wearing a mask isn’t to protect the person wearing it from getting coronavirus, but to protect others from getting it.
“This isn’t new in communicable diseases and not unique to this virus. If these safety measures and precautions aren’t taken, we can’t contain it. We know masks work. No, we don’t know how much. It’s not 100%, but they do help. Kids are getting sick. Not as sick as adults, but they’re getting sick. I’m more worried about the people coming into contact with kids who are positive, such as their grandparents.”
Cowardin said it’s not kids protesting this.
“Our kids are doing what we need them to do. Kids are not the ones showing resistance to wearing masks, it’s not happening,” Cowardin said in response to the petition.
“Everything we do is to protect our community. I know some people don’t agree. We support everyone in the community, and we recognize how hard it is,” she said. “Our community’s safety is why we’re here. We’re doing everything possible to protect our population.”