Scores of shoes were strategically placed on the steps of the San Juan School District Office on Nov. 22. These shoes were meant to demonstrate how many students would be missing from the classrooms if a vaccine mandate were in place.
Superintendent Fred Woods said of the demonstration, “We respect the right of all our citizens to voice an opinion. The protest clearly demonstrates the complicated times we are living in.”
Currently, according to Woods, there has been no discussion of imposing a mandate on the children.
“The district will not pursue any mandates unilaterally. All of our actions concerning COVID-19 have been guided by the Department of Health,” he said. “A child vaccine mandate has not been discussed by the board and there is no plan to do so in the near future. A mandate like this could not happen until the decision goes through a process beginning with the CDC and moving through several state checks and balances.”
However, with some Seattle schools putting mandates in place, a number of Friday Harbor residents are worried. The main difference with the mandates is that Seattle consists of large schools in a highly populated city, whereas San Juan Island is under different circumstances.
Erika Ann Christensen played a big role in setting up the demonstration. She said that while up to 50 shoes were gathered for the demonstration, there were many more people who had reached out wanting to participate.
“I just started having conversations with people and surprisingly, it went from I was thinking 20 people to I had 50 people by the end of the one day, one day and 60 families wanted or 50 students from multiple families,” she said. “I’m like, Oh my gosh, I don’t have enough shoes. the purpose of it was to, you know, give an accurate representation.”
Christensen also remarked that the ability to be represented and stay anonymous seemed to spark the interest of many people.
“The part about being anonymous is important to a lot of people here because of the backlash we’ve seen, and our choices seem to carry a lot of weight in how we’re treated here, which is, which sucks, but it’s true,” she said. “People who may not agree with the mandate felt more comfortable participating in this.”
She also pointed out that people who are not open about their opposition to the mandates are not just trying to protect themselves, but their children as well. She elaborated on this by adding that vaccination status has become something that contributes to stress in schools, causing students whose parents have not allowed them to get vaccinated to feel alienated and get picked on and vice versa.
Christensen said that those who wanted to participate consisted of a diverse group of people who were both pro-mask and pro-vaccine to anti-mask and anti-vaccine, but the one thing they came to agree on was that they did not want a mandate imposed on the children.
Going forward with battling the pandemic, Christensen said that if a mandate were to become a discussion in the schools, that she hopes it would be a decision that could be made democratically. In the meantime, she plans to keep protesting mandates in order to be prepared.
“These kinds of things, these movements. It takes, you know, it takes people being really serious and intentional about what they’re doing,” she said.