PORTLAND, Ore. — Approximately two dozen Portland Public Schools students rallied outside the district's headquarters Friday morning over its decision to make masks optional once the statewide mandate is lifted this weekend.
"I think that honestly telling people to take off their masks is really selfish to people who don't have that option," Franklin High School student Serafina Sabatini said.
Starting Saturday, March 12, masking will no longer be required in indoor public places, including schools, in Oregon. This means masking will be optional in schools beginning Monday, March 14.
Sabatini is worried about the younger kids she works with outside of the school setting, namely the little kids she crosses paths with as a swim instructor.
"I can't wear a mask during that," Sabatini said. "I wear a face shield, but since we're in a pool I can't wear a mask and I don't want the mask mandate lifted at schools because then I can be exposed and possibly expose part of the vulnerable population."
It is concern for the vulnerable populations that prompted Friday's student walkout.
"I see my grandma every week," Franklin High School student Avani Stevens-Rose said. "She's not super immunocompromised. It's just in general. I have friends who live with their grandparents."
"I feel very strongly that there are people in our community that'll be heavily impacted by lifting the mask mandate," Ida B. Wells-Barnet High School student Jazz Stahr added.
At a Friday afternoon press conference outlining Oregon's pandemic recovery plan, state leaders addressed the students' concerns about shedding masks.
"Our districts are using the COVID-19 community levels tool that now shows most of Oregon's counties in the low level of community levels and suggests from the CDC it's a time where it's safe to go without masks," Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill said.
Gill reminded students that masks will never be prohibited. He encourages students and staff who want to continue wearing masks to do so. Students who walked out of class Friday will be among those who keep wearing masks.
"Of course I will," Sabatini said. "A KN95."