What Inland Empire students say about wearing masks – San Bernardino Sun

California’s indoor mask mandate for the vaccinated ends Tuesday, Feb. 15. But not for school children.

They and others on campuses are still required to don face coverings, at least until state health officials re-assess school mask rules on Feb. 28.

Meanwhile, protests have been staged by Inland Empire parents, youths and others who say the law isn’t fair to students. For example, Norco Intermediate School saw demonstrations and a group of students who refused to wear masks, starting Feb. 4. Some continued to defy the mask rule into the middle of last week and have been studying outdoors during the school days.

Corona-Norco Unified School District spokesperson Brittany Foust said Tuesday that 25 Norco Intermediate students participated in the mask protest today, down from the 100 students reported Feb. 4.

A Tuesday news release states that “students at a handful” of district campuses protested this week. Foust said Tuesday’s protests were primarily at Norco Intermediate and Highland Elementary School, which saw 50 students sitting outdoors. The statement said about 300 of the district’s 52,000 students have participated in “mask sit-outs” since Feb. 4.

As the state moves into its next phase of grappling with the coronavirus, we asked students across the Inland Empire on Tuesday what it’s like to wear a mask and what they think of the rules. Here’s what they said.

Sophia Morales, 12, wears a mask after being dropped off at Gage Middle School in Riverside on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Sophia Morales

It was challenging at first for Sophia Morales, 12-year-old seventh grader at Riverside’s Gage Middle School, to wear a face covering in class.

“It was hard to breathe,” said Sophia, who now doesn’t mind masks.

“I just got used to it because I wore it like every single day,” Sophia said.

She would be OK with the state lifting the school mask requirement, saying it would be a relief.

“But I also want to be safe,” she said.

Blanca Mendoza

The state’s changing mask rules don’t sit well with San Bernardino resident Blanca Mendoza.

“I think it’s not fair, honestly, because if students are able to give it (the coronavirus) to other students, then adults are able to give it to other adults,” the 18-year-old senior at San Bernardino High School said. “They should either take them all off or everybody has to wear it.”

La Verne Science And Technology Charter School student Matthew Ornelas says wearing a mask outdoors makes it hard to breathe at times. (Courtesy of Jesika Ornelas)

Matthew Ornelas

In Pomona, kindergartener Matthew Ornelas, 5, has gotten in trouble for putting down his mask briefly during recess at La Verne Science and Technology Charter School.

Wearing a mask outdoors makes it hard to breathe at times, he said Tuesday.

“Only in class is OK,” Ornelas said. “But it’s hard outside.”

Sydney Pelbath, 11, a sixth grader at Temecula Middle School, walks to school Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022. (Courtesy of Ali Pelbath)

Sydney Pelbath

Temecula Middle School student Sydney Pelbath refused to wear her mask Monday, Feb. 14.

She was sent to an alternate classroom “where the kids who refused to wear a mask had class.”

The 11-year-old sixth grader has clear opinions on the state’s mask rules.

“I think it’s stupid. Very tired of it, all my friends and I hate it,” Sydney said. “I can’t wear my glasses in class because they fog up with the mask on. If masks were really working, then why is COVID still going around?”

Her mother, Ali Pelbath, supports her daughter’s choice not to wear the mask. She said it was “ridiculous” for “70,000 people to join mask-free at a Super Bowl together, but 20 to 30 kids in a classroom isn’t allowed.”

Rebecca Schell, 5, wears her purple mask, which matches her purple glasses and backpack, to her kindergarten class on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, at E.J. Marshall Elementary School in Chino. (Photo by Allyson Escobar, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Rebecca Schell

Kindergartener Rebecca Schell arrived at Chino’s E.J. Marshall Elementary School on Tuesday with purple glasses and a backpack — and a matching purple mask.

“It keeps me safe,” Rebecca, 5, said.

Henry Martinez, Rebecca’s grandfather, said she wears it to protect her family, including a 3 1/2-year-old brother.

“She’s surrounded by a lot of kids, and not everybody follows the mask mandate — I believe in it, and I believe in the shots,” Martinez said. “She’s got her shots. She’s still got to protect her brother at home.”

Noah Zolfaghari, 12, smiles after being dropped off by his mother at Gage Middle School in Riverside on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Noah Zolfaghari

It’s been tough for 12-year-old Noah Zolfaghari, a seventh grader at Riverside’s Gage Middle School, to wear a mask every day.

“It’s been really bad,” said Noah, who has asthma.

It doesn’t help that he has a physical education course after lunch, during the hottest part of the day. Because it’s outdoors, he doesn’t have to mask up. But he has to put a mask on his sweaty face heading into class and it’s uncomfortable.

“If my mask gets below my nose, my teacher gets really, really mad,” he said.

He’s been warned he could get detention, but hasn’t.

Noah hopes California’s school mask mandate ends soon.

“I feel like it would be way better for kids, especially for kids with asthma, so that they can breathe better,” he said.

Sarah Mahfoud

Sarah Mahfoud has mixed feelings on mask rules lifting for some but not for students.

“Now, that is kind of annoying that adults don’t have to wear it, and students do, but I kind of understand why students do have to wear it, since we’re almost all indoors and in a tight, enclosed space,” the 17-year-old senior at Alta Loma High School in Rancho Cucamonga said. “It’s just what’s best, I think, because the pandemic is obviously not over.”

Students’ compliance with the mandate varies, she said.

“There’s either people who don’t listen to it at all and never wear (a mask), other people who strictly follow the rules, or some who just have it below their nose,” said Mahfoud, who lives in Rancho Cucamonga. “But for the most part, people wear it.”

She wears a surgical mask without complaint.

“It doesn’t really bother me,” Mahfoud said.

Cris Jauregui, a 10-year-old fifth grader at E.J. Marshall Middle School in Chino, wears his mask to school Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022. (Photo by Allyson Escobar, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Cris Jauregui

Before Tuesday classes at E.J. Marshall Elementary School in Chino, some students were handed masks at the campus gates.

Cris Jauregui, 10, brought his own.

“I don’t really mind wearing it all day,” the fifth grader from Chino said. “I haven’t gotten the virus.”

His father, Cristhian Jauregui, also said he has no problem with face coverings.

“I don’t think masks will stop the pandemic, but it will help ease the spread a little,” he said. “… Cris and I wear our masks all the time — don’t want to get sick or get other people, especially other kids, sick.”

Celeste Hernandez-Dawson

Celeste Hernandez-Dawson said she doesn’t have to wear a mask because she has a medical exemption due to anxiety issues. But seeing other students wearing them makes her “sad and angry.”

“I may have recently been able to escape the mask rule, but other students still have to wear them,” the 17-year-old Temecula Valley High School junior said. “It is tiring to wear them all day and when I had to, it made my school days feel like a prison.”

Hernandez-Dawson said masks gave her “breathing issues” and teachers’ constant reminders caused stress. She also criticized Gov. Gavin Newsom, saying the fact that he and his friends “won’t follow their own rules is infuriating.”

“Us kids deserve the right to breathe freely.”

Colin Jeffries, 13, is seen Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, after being dropped off at Gage Middle School in Riverside. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Colin Jeffries

Wearing a mask at Gage Middle School isn’t a “big deal” in the morning, said Colin Jeffries, 13, an eighth grader at the Riverside campus.

But the afternoon is different. Wearing a face covering in class after exercising outside in his fifth-period PE class is uncomfortable.

“You have sweat on your face and your breath is still hot,” he said.

Jeffries said that was less of a problem during the cooler, earlier part of winter. But it’s been tough during recent unseasonably warm weather. He hopes students can soon join others not required to mask up indoors.

“It would definitely be nice to have the mask off,” he said.

Alberto Miramontes

At San Bernardino High School, mask use is mixed at best, Alberto Miramontes said.

“At school in the lunch areas, everyone’s got their mask off,”  the 17-year-old senior and class president said. “They claim to be eating, but they’re shoulder to shoulder in the cafeteria, which is an enclosed area.”

“Does COVID not exist at that moment?” asked Miramontes, who believes masking remains necessary, for students and adults.

William Hetzel

Masking up for first grader William Hetzel, 7, makes him feel like his friends and teacher “can’t see him.”

Some friends at La Verne Heights Elementary School in the Bonita Unified School District don’t mind the masks, but he feels they are unnecessary.

“Nobody can really see my face, including my teacher,” William said Tuesday.

This month, his mother, Margarita, got a medical exemption for him and his fourth-grade sister to exclude them from mask mandates. For the past week, both attended class without wearing face coverings indoors.

“There’s been a difference in their behavior since and there is no longer a distraction in the classroom,” Margarita Hetzel said.

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