‘My Child. My Choice’

Locals protest new mask PA mandate at the Greene County courthouse

A gathering of Greene County citizens smattered the front steps of the Greene County Courthouse the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 7 to protest the newly enacted mask mandate in Pennsylvania.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s website

“On Tuesday, Aug. 31, Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of Health signed an Order requiring face coverings to be worn in all school entities, including school districts, brick and mortar and cyber charter schools, private and parochial schools, career and technical centers, intermediate units, and early learning and other child care settings, effective Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021.”

Two local women organized the protest almost immediately. One organizer declined to comment. The other organizer, stay-at-home mother Brooke Gates, asked why she was motivated to speak out against the new mandate.

“It should be a parent’s choice as to whether we put a mask on our child or not,” Gates explained.

“At the beginning of the school year, it was a choice, and then they took that away from us. My child, my choice.”

This is the first protest Gates has organized. She was spurred to action after one of her four children, a third grader, was barred from entering the school without a mask on.

“This order will remain in effect until the Acting Secretary of Health determines the public health risk is sufficiently reduced so that face coverings are no longer necessary as public health tools in school entities,” according to education.pa.gov. 

Photo courtesy of Sierra Medina
Brooke Gates holding her sign

Section three of the order outlines the only times where not wearing a mask is acceptable: 

If wearing a face covering while working would create an unsafe condition in

which to operate equipment or execute a task as determined by local, state,

or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines; 

If wearing a face covering would either cause a medical condition, or exacerbate an existing one, including respiratory issues that impede breathing, a mental health condition or a disability; When necessary to confirm the individual’s identity; 

When working alone and isolated from interaction with other people with little or no expectation of in-person interaction; 

If an individual is communicating or seeking to communicate with someone who is hearing-impaired or has another disability, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication; 

When the individual is under two years of age; 

When an individual is: Engaged in an activity that cannot be performed while wearing a

mask, such as eating and drinking, or playing an instrument that would be obstructed by the face covering; or Participating in high intensity aerobic or anaerobic activities, including during a physical education class in a well-ventilated location and able to maintain a physical distance of six feet from all other individuals; 

When a child/student is participating in a sports practice activity or event, whether indoors or outdoors.”

As cars drove by the courthouse honking in support, the protestors let out shouts of acknowledgment.

“Stand your ground,” Gates said. “If this is something that you believe in and you believe in choice and that’s what you stand for, then don’t back down.”

Photo courtesy of Sierra Medina
A co-organizer holds her sign