Students, staff weigh in on St. Louis County mask mandate removal


Morgan Vehige

The mask mandate was lifted in St. Louis County following a letter from the Acting Health Department leader Dr. Faisal Khan. Khan still recommends that everyone continue to wear masks in indoor places. Currently, the Rockwood School District has not made a move to remove its own mask mandate in schools.

St. Louis County’s mask mandate was removed on Dec. 9 following a letter from the St. Louis County’s Department of Health saying that the Sept. 27 Facing Covering order had been rescinded. 

Acting Public Health Director Dr. Faisal Khan wrote the letter after Daniel Green, Cole County circuit judge, ruled that mask mandates and restrictions are ‘null and void’ due to their violation of the Missouri Constitution. It also follows the County Council’s blockage of a new mask mandate. 

With that order, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt sent a cease and desist letter to school districts informing them that their mask mandates were no longer legal. However, the Rockwood School District has yet to rescind its mask mandate and sent a letter to all parents and staff announcing that there is currently no change to its current mitigation strategies.

In that letter, Interim Superintendent Tim Ricker wrote, “Once our attorneys have provided us with a full analysis of the Attorney General’s opinion, we will follow up with the Board of Education and our health advisors to discuss any necessary changes to our current mitigation strategies.”

At Lafayette, Associate Principal Michael Franklin said discussion about the mask mandate being removed seems to have had little effect on the students and staff.

“We’ve kind of been unchanged really. We’ve had a couple kids who have said they don’t want to do it, so we work with them to get them back into class. Every time that I’ve been involved or heard about it, we’ve worked with the kids and they’ve gone back to class,” Franklin said. 

Over the past couple of days, there have been some instances of student mask walk-outs at Eureka High School and similar disagreements at schools across the district.  An extension of those protests also took place at the Central Office building. There was discussion that some LHS students planned a mask-out for Dec. 6, but it did not materialize.

Franklin understands there are many perspectives about mask wearing within Rockwood and within Lafayette, and the situation could change within a moment’s notice with word from Ricker and the board.

“I think that the superintendent and the board are [looking at all the options.] That’s what an issue is. There are two different sides. Half the people are happy now, and half are unhappy. If anything changes, that could easily flip flop.”

After St. Louis County’s announcement that the mask mandate was no longer in effect, some students decided to stop wearing masks, including seniors Hayden Cook and Kyle Rinkenberger. 

“I think a lot of people are fed up with wearing masks, especially because it’s not a law anymore. I think me and Kyle have to stand up and speak for most of the people at Lafayette because nobody is going to stand up for their rights, might as well do it ourselves,” Cook said. 

With the same sentiment, Rikenberger said some teachers don’t enforce it either way, which is another reason to take off masks. 

“It depends on the teacher. Some of them I respect and put it on because it’s not worth fighting, but others you can stand up and say that it’s not a law anymore,” Rickenberger said. “I would say the majority of them don’t care though. I would say out of the seven teachers that I have, only one of them would tell me to put it back on.”

Despite the recent change by St. Louis County, Franklin said the majority of students are still following the mitigation strategies in the building. 

“Take a look around. As you walk through the halls and as you sit in classrooms you see kids, that even though they’re hearing the same things that we’re hearing, they’re still complying. They’re still doing what we’re asking them to do, which is wear a mask. I think we follow the rules, and that’s what we see out of our kids,” Franklin said.

Junior Isa Ramirez-Icaza heard about the removal of the county mask mandate from a friend. She said the information was unexpected.  

“I was really surprised that [St. Louis County] did that. I did not think they were going to do it,” Ramierez-Icaza said. “It seemed like one day everything was kind of fine and then the next there were no masks anymore.”

Ramirez-Icaza supports wearing masks within the school, and although she recognizes there are some who’d prefer not to, she thinks that the best decision is to put safety at the forefront.

“[Students who don’t like masks] have a right to protest, they can do whatever they want but I think they should wear a mask. It’s not that hard,” Ramierez-Icaza said. “Personally, I think they should keep [the mask mandate]. It keeps us safe, and it’s really not that bad.”

On the evening of Dec. 10, the Rockwood Communications department announced a new plan for mitigation strategies that will be presented to the Board of Education at the Dec. 16 meeting.

Cook and Rickenberger believe the district is going to decide to make masks optional following the backlash.

“I think [the district is going to make masks optional], especially with how much the district is getting sued. I feel like we are not going to have to wear masks soon,” Cook said.