‘It’s going to get weird:’ Protesters of mask mandate in Re-2 promise litigation during rally, march | PostIndependent.com

‘It’s going to get weird:’ Protesters of mask mandate in Re-2 promise litigation during rally, march

Anti-mask protesters show signs to traffic on Railroad Avenue from Heinze Park in Rifle on Sept. 27.
Rich Allen / Post Independent

Monday’s arrival of the Garfield School District Re-2’s mask mandate was met by an organized protest and march in Rifle.

Across the street from Rifle Middle School, from the steps of Heinze Park’s gazebo, speakers addressed a crowd of more than 100 parents, students and citizens. They spoke of resisting the mask mandate, instated by the district more than a month into the school year after over 350 students were forced to quarantine due to more than 60 positive tests for COVID-19. They also addressed a cease-and-desist letter — not an enforceable order — already delivered to the district’s board of education, a recall petition and further litigation plans and attempted to unify an approach to long-term refusal of the mandate.

“It’s going to get weird, and it’s going to get hard,” Jeff Powers, an organizer of the rally, said to the crowd.

Powers and the other organizers split participants up school by school and coordinated their ongoing school day arrival times, applying pressure to those charged with keeping unmasked persons from entering. They asked students to familiarize themselves with the cease-and-desist letter and gave them other instructions on how to refuse to wear a mask “respectfully.”

Students were also instructed to record all mask-related conversations within the schools.

Parents expressed a concern that wearing a mask for an extended period of time will be detrimental to their children’s health.

“We feel it’s important for our children to breathe and to breathe fresh air and to not feel like they’re breathing their lunch,” Kelli Broughton, mother of three students at Kathryn Senor school in New Castle, said. “We also feel like we should have the choice to give our children a mask or not.”

After a little over an hour in Heinze Park, the group was escorted by police up Railroad Avenue and Ninth Street to the ADA entrance of the administrative building shortly after 9 a.m. as sympathetic passerbys honked their horns. In the parking lot, they chanted, “No more masks,” “We are Re-2,” and more. No district personnel met with the group during the protest.

“What happened today was a group of citizens executing their constitutional right to protest,” Re-2 Director of Communications Theresa Hamilton said. “Everybody wants our kids to be successful. Garfield Re-2 School District wants kids in person, in front of their teachers and learning in person. Our path forward for that is implementing the protocols we put into place.”

The protest dispersed around 10 a.m..

Today’s march was the largest in Rifle since a Black Lives Matter March and vigil on June 19, 2020, when hundreds of marchers were met by roaring motorcycle engines and counter-protesters. No counter-protesters were found at Monday’s march.

The group also aims to recall Re-2 school board members Meriya Stickler and Katie Mackley, claiming they had already collected 3,000 signatures on a petition.

They have also sought legal counsel, they said, to seek a restraining order against the mask mandates if necessary.

The benchmark for removing masks follows Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment guidelines of reduced quarantine: counties reaching a caseload of fewer than 35 per 100,000 over seven days, 80% of eligible staff and students receiving at least one vaccination or 70% of unvaccinated individuals receiving regular testing.

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