40+ students charged with truancy following mask protests
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Editor
TOMAHAWK – More than 40 School District of Tomahawk students were charged with truancy after leaving campus to protest the district’s mask policy last month.
The largest of protests, which were referenced by Tomahawk Police Chief Al Elvins in his May monthly report, took place on Wednesday, May 5, when roughly 40 students walked out of school and staged demonstrations against the inability for students to choose whether or not to wear face coverings on school grounds.
The policy requires all students, staff and visitors to wear masks on campus.
High School Principal Ryan Huseby, High School Associate Principal Stacy Bolder, and Middle School Principal Wendell Quesinberry, in a document prepared by the three, explained the district’s attendance procedures, which “require students to provide properly documented guardian permission in order to be excused from the supervision of school personnel prior to the absence.”
“Proper checkout procedures must be followed for the safety and security of all students,” the document stated. “Anytime a student fails to follow these procedures, they may be referred to law enforcement for an individual occurrence of truancy citation. Students may also face school disciplinary actions at the time of the initial occurrence.”
Huseby, Bolder and Quesinberry also provided communications that were sent to middle school and high school students and families on Tuesday, May 4, the day before the protests.
The district informed families that it had “received word that possibly a significant number of students were planning to protest the District’s policy on wearing face coverings.”
“We fully respect each individual’s right to peacefully organize,” the communication stated. “However, we all have to respect the educational process and avoid disruptions to the learning environment.”
The communication said that any students who wanted to voice their opinions on the policy could do so at an assembly in the auditorium at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, May 5. The listening session was slated to last until 8:20 a.m., at which time all students would be “expected to comply with all District policies and report to class.”
“Students who choose to disrupt school procedures will be subject to disciplinary measures,” the communication stated.
After the assembly, roughly 40 students walked out of school in protest of the policy.
According to Elvins’s report, officers were called to the school to assist School Resource Officer Bret Susa with the demonstrations being carried out by students.
“The students gathered in front of the high school during normal school hours,” Elvins stated in the report. “The school district requested that the students leave the school property. The students were informed that they could gather off of school property.”
Elvins said the students left school property and demonstrated on Kings Road and School Road.
“The protest was peaceful and did not require any officer intervention,” he stated.
Elvins said he notified several parents that the district may file truancy charges, and that the parents and students “were informed that there may be consequences for the actions.”
“As a result of the students leaving campus, the school district requested that truancy citation(s) be issued,” Elvins stated.
The Tomahawk Police Department complied with the district’s request, and “in excess of 40 students” were cited with a city ordinance violation and provided a date to appear in the Merrill and Tomahawk Municipal Court, Elvins said.
Several parents contacted Elvins after the citations were issued.
“They were informed of the court date and how the process works,” he stated. “I informed them that the court will decide if the students will face consequences for their actions.”
Elvins told the Tomahawk Leader that students found guilty of the truancy charges could face fines of $98.60.
District Administrator Terry Reynolds said that, other than the truancy referrals to the School Resource Officer, there were no consequences from the district and no further involvement from the district in the matter.
“These citation referrals resulted from multiple days of students walking out of the building and leaving classes without prior permission from parents and authorization from the school offices,” Reynolds stated.