RBHS students walk out to demand return of masks

Nora Crutcher-McGowan, Editor-in-Chief

RBHS students walked out of classrooms at noon Wednesday, Jan. 12 to call for the reinstatement of a district-wide mask mandate. The CPS mask requirement ended Jan. 4 after a ruling from the Board of Education Dec. 13. 

Juniors Katherine Cox-Littrell and Meena Cullity, who organized the RBHS event, said they were inspired by the Hickman High School walkout that first occurred Monday. 

“We started texting this weekend when we saw that Hickman was doing theirs,” Cox-Littrell said. “We wanted to do it on Monday with Rock Bridge, but we didn’t really get the word out there well enough. And we were like, ‘Okay, we’re actually going to do this for real this time and get the word out.’”

Senior Abigail Bridgeman said she participated in the walkout over concerns for her and her family’s health.

“I chose to be involved in this walkout because [COVID-19] transmissions are rising and the redaction of the mask mandate is causing and magnifying the issues of transmission especially with the Omicron variant,” Bridgeman said. “Coming from a family of physicians, I get a lot of information about how overwhelmed hospitals are and how terrible this pandemic is getting. I came to walk out in support of a mask mandate.”  

As of Jan. 12, 410 students and 68 staff members in the district are currently quarantined or isolated because of COVID-19 according to the CPS COVID-19 tracker. The sub fill rate between Jan. 10 and 11 was 43.9%, with 316 subs needed and only 139 sub positions filled.

Cullity said though district barriers make it difficult to reinstate the mask mandate, the main goal of the protests is to draw attention to the amount of students who want this change. 

 “People are saying there’s no point in doing this whole protest outside of school because the school is getting sued, but it’s really just trying to prove that we’re mad, that we’re angry, that there’s this uncomfortableness in school and that we can’t really do anything about it,” Cullity said. “So this is kind of just to prove that we’re going to still fight for masks.”

Katherine Cox-Littrell and Meena Cullity talk to the crowd (Bailey Blackburn).

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit against CPS in August, challenging the legality of mask mandates in school districts in Missouri, as reported by the Columbia Missourian. Schmitt dismissed the lawsuit after the Board voted to end the mandate. 

“By showing that we’re willing to put our education on the line for the reinstatement of the mask mandate, we’re just hoping that the school board and the [Missouri] Attorney General themselves will see that it’s not something we’re going to get over,” Cox-Littrell said. “We’re mad about this. We deserve to feel safe at school. And so we’re just hoping that we at least at the bare minimum get some recognition.”

Cox-Littrell said students will continue to walkout, “adding five minutes every day that we do not hear a response from the school board.”

“I need to see people wearing masks again because I don’t feel safe going to school. It’s causing staffing problems at school. I don’t feel safe here,” Bridgeman said. “I’m scared for my health and scared for my family’s health, and especially people who can’t get the booster, who can’t get the vaccine due to other health issues, we need to protect those people.”