Back in July, school districts were in the throes of deciding how to safely reopen during a pandemic. The Cedarburg School District was initially not going to require mask-wearing in its buildings. But two high school students put up a fight.
Julia Going and Ava Rheeve started an online petition in favor of a mask requirement that garnered more than 1,000 signatures. They also testified at a school board meeting and gathered community testimony for board members.
The students called out the contradiction in their school enforcing a dress code against tank tops and short-shorts, but hesitating to enforce mask-wearing, which could help protect people against COVID-19.
“That really just made us think, they’ve enforced what we can wear on our bodies for the past 12 years. They dictate what we can wear to school every day. So why can’t they dictate one piece of clothing?” Going said.
Cedarburg High School’s dress code says examples of “inappropriate” clothing include tops without one or both shoulders, tops that leave the midriff exposed, skirts and shorts that don’t go “hips to tips,” and headwear.
“Knowing that they thought it was an issue to see my shoulders and not to potentially be spreading germs to other people, it seemed kind of silly to me,” Rheeve said. “It seemed like a double standard. If you’re not gonna stand up for public safety and instead you’re going to send girls home for shorts that are too short, what message are you sending to students?”
Going and Rheeve say they were worried about their teachers’ and the community’s health if masks weren’t required. They also were concerned their hopes for in-person school would be derailed by an outbreak that forced the building to close.
Rheeve and Going’s advocacy in favor of masks received national attention when it was covered in The Lily, a publication of The Washington Post.
“The whole thing became something bigger than we ever thought it could be,” Rheeve said.
Now that the school year has started, Rheeve and Going say students and staff seem to be following the mask-wearing rules, and they feel like Cedarburg is doing its best to make in-person school as safe as possible.
“They’re sanitizing everything, the principals and vice principals are around the building helping out with cleaning,” Rheeve says. “It’s all hands on deck right now and I feel confident that they’re doing everything they can to keep us safe.”
Editor’s note: Ava Rheeve is the daughter of WUWM engineer Jason Rieve.
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