Updated: September 28, 2022
Saying that masks should be a choice, about 50 to 75 people rallied in Wailuku Wednesday morning against the state Department of Education’s indoor mask mandate.
The indoor mask mandate at public schools is one of the last remaining statewide COVID-19 rules. Hawaiʻi’s universal mandates, including the Safe Travels program and indoor mask requirements, were lifted March 26. Also, various private schools have pulled indoor mask mandates.
“I’m standing up for my son,” Maui public school teacher Alisa Hamasaki said during the rally. “I don’t want the Department of Ed to require us to wear masks. I would like us to have a choice.”
The teacher said that people are divided on the topic at her school, however, more families and instructors are starting to question why students are one of the last remaining groups in Hawai’i to not have a choice when it comes to masking.
Drivers honked horns as Hamasaki and others protested from 8 to 11 a.m. outside the state building along South High Street.
Parents and students held signs that said, “Stand up for your child, even if it means standing up against the DOE,” “My teacher can’t hear us well. Masks do harm,” “Unmask our keiki,” “Let me breathe,” and “If not now, then when? De-mask our keiki.”
Willow Tsalapatanis, 9, said that masks are hot, irritating and make it hard to understand what students and teachers are saying.
“I feel like they’re torture,” she said.
Janelle Ragusa, Lāhaina resident, said she was frustrated to learn that the federal rule requiring masks during travel was lifted earlier this week while kids in Hawaiʻi are still being forced to wear masks. A federal judge threw out the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mask mandate for travelers Monday.
“If they were following science, what are they following now?” she said.
State DOE in a letter to parents earlier this week said that the universal indoor mask rule will remain in effect through the end of the current school year, which is May 27.
In defending indoor mask rules, DOE has pointed to state Department of Health guidance that says universal masking should be implemented if individual case investigation, close contact investigation and quarantine of in-school exposures are not done.
“We have 257 schools, 170,000 students, we’re not a single campus,” DOE spokeswoman Nanea Kalani told Maui Now this afternoon. “We don’t have the ability to implement things like weekly testing for every single person right now. And so this is the best protection we can offer based on the latest information we have.”
“We understand people are exhausted with the restrictions, but we’re still in a pandemic right now,” she added. “And so this is what’s in place, and we appreciate everybody’s understanding.”
Kalani said that the indoor masking decision for summer school will be revisited in May.
“We’re hopeful that summer conditions will be improving and that we can make other decisions to relax some of the requirements,” she said. “But as of right now for the rest of this school year, universal indoor masking is in place.”