FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The Northwest Allen County Schools parent group “Be Not Afraid 365” held a school picket to “End Forced Masking of our Children” on Tuesday morning.
A few parents and children were spotted near Perry Hill Elementary and the NACS administration building around 7:30 a.m. The picketers held signs that read, “UNMASK NACS.”
The group later moved to Maple Creek Middle School and planned to head to Carroll High School from there.
The group declined an interview request Tuesday, but an organizer spoke with WANE 15 on Monday.
“We will be making a unified statement,” said Travis Striggle, the creator of the group, on Monday. “Just to bring awareness to the community that ‘hey, there are people that are fighting back against the mask mandate,’ and also to give those kids that are coming to school hope that there are people that care about us and they want the best for us.”
Striggle is also the creator of “Unmask NACS Students Now.” The difference between the groups is that instead of being specific to Northwest Allen County Schools, “Be Not Afraid 365” includes for all school corporations inside of Allen County.
According to a flyer posted on Facebook, Tuesday’s picket was to take place at every school in Allen County 30 minutes prior to the start of the school day. Striggle said he was unsure about how many parents would show up and how often they will continue to do this.
WANE 15 received no other reports about pickets at any other county schools.
Striggle said the picket plan was “just one tactic” to bring awareness to what the group is fighting for.
“There’s a lot of people in the community that still don’t know that we exist, so it’s going to take a lot of different approaches,” said Striggle. “We have pamphlets that we’re going to be giving out, we have a door-to-door campaign that we’re going to start and petitions that are going out in the local area.”
The school district said its aware of the picketing plans. A NACS spokesperson sent WANE 15 the following statement Monday:
“Our response to protesters, regardless of the issue, has been consistent. We have no concerns with a protester’s right to peacefully express his or her position. Protesters do not, however, have a right to disrupt the educational environment, harass students or staff, or pose other similar safety concerns. Protesters are allowed to share their voice, but not on the grounds of Northwest Allen County Schools. Demonstrators or protesters may position themselves along a public roadside, right-of-way or on a public sidewalk as long as roadways and walkways are not blocked.”– Lizette Downey, Northwest Allen County Schools spokesperson
“We’re going to be peaceful,” Striggle told WANE on Monday. “We’re going to make sure that we’re staying on property that we’re allowed to be on. And those will all be things that will take into consideration.”
The statewide mask mandate was lifted April 6, but the state still mandated face coverings in K-12 schools through the end of the school year. The last day of the NACS school year is May 28.
Trying to get the mask mandate lifted before the end of the academic year is so urgent to the group because they fear what could be in store for next school year.
“They’ve set no standard for when the masks come off,” said Striggle. “So it’s almost a certain thing that the mask will be back next year. And so we’re fighting now to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”
He also expressed that he feels the group is “misrepresented by the media.”
“We’re actually loving, compassionate, parents, and all we ask for is the freedom to send our kids, with or without masks and that’s it,” said Striggle.
The next school board meeting for NACS is Monday, May 10 at 6 p.m.