“We Need to Have a Choice”: Downtown Rally Held to Protest Mask Mandate in Schools

Jamie Harlan (far right) speaks to the crowd on a megaphone at the “Let The Kids Breathe” rally in Downtown Fresno on Monday, May 18. (Gabe Camarillo/Clovis Roundup)

At a “Let The Kids Breathe” rally on Monday, held outside the Fresno County Office of Education, a megaphone was passed around between attendees, each one calling for the end of mask requirements in schools.

“Enough is enough. This is America. Unmask our children,” said one parent, her words reverberating off the Downtown Fresno buildings.

Whatever was not expressed into the warm morning air was written on signs that demonstrators waved at passing cars.

“My child. My choice,” read a parent’s sign.

“My son gets headaches and throws up. We need fresh air,” read another.

Parents were not alone in sharing the rally’s message. Children sat on the concrete, with Crayola markers splayed to their side, and drew up signs of their own.

“If you care, let me get air,” read one child’s sign.

An hour into the rally, there were about 60 people in attendance, nearly everyone with a sign in hand.

“It’s every Fresno County school represented here today,” said the rally’s organizer, Kayla Silva, mother of two River View Elementary School students. She said if Clovis Unified School District doesn’t lift its mask mandate or provide a choice for students to not wear one this fall, she will pull her sons from the school.

“Right now, [classes] are three hours a day,” Silva said. “They’ll be returning to six and a half hours a day. That’s double the time [wearing masks] and double the amount of effects on their brains, and I just can’t do that.”

Silva never organized a rally before Monday’s, but learned through social media that the organization Informed Parents of California was holding 25 “Let The Kids Breathe” rallies statewide on May 17.

“I wanted there to be one in Fresno, and so I was like, ‘I’m going to step up,’” Silva said.

The rally focused on school districts’ decision regarding masks, and whether students will be required to wear them when they transition back to five-days-a-week, in-person learning, as Fresno and Clovis Unified have announced they intend to in the fall.

“Why don’t they make it optional?” asked Rebecca Dhuyvetter, a parent of a second-grader. “If a parent feels strongly about wearing a mask, then wear it, but we need to have the choice.”

Silva pointed to children’s health as her biggest reason for opposing the schools’ mask mandate. For a portion of Monday’s rally, she grabbed the megaphone and read aloud a German study listing children’s complaints from wearing masks.

Another rally attendee, Jamie Harlan, mentioned a different side effect she’s noticed from masks on schoolchildren.

“We’re doing so much psychological damage to the children by masking them,” Harlan said. “It makes me so emotional, because I don’t even put my child in school, but I’m here to fight for the children.”

As rally goers passed the megaphone off to each other and chanted, passing cars occasionally honked in support, igniting a cheer from the crowd. The demonstration was peaceful, yet highly emotional.

“If we don’t stand up, who’s going to stand up for the kids?” Harlan said. “They’re going to watch mommy and daddy not stand up, and they’re not gonna stand up either.”

Gabriel Camarillo has written for the Clovis Roundup since August 2019 and follows high school athletics, Fresno State football and former Clovis Unified student-athletes. Gabe also writes for The Collegian as a staff sports writer and works at One Putt Broadcasting as a board op for 940 ESPN radio.