Two students banned from school for not wearing masks

Springs Charter School in Temecula was placed on lockdown Thursday after two students refused to comply with the mask mandate, according to the school.

The incident happened on the first day of class. Victoria Nelson, a junior, and her brother Drew Nelson, a senior, say they chose not to wear a mask for religious reasons. The siblings thought their decision would fall under a religious exemption, even though no formal request had been filed with the district or the school.

"We thought the school would care what we believe in but they just didn’t even care enough to listen," Victoria explained.

Drew says he was sent to the principal’s office immediately. However, administrators say Victoria refused to wear a mask or leave class. The junior says the situation escalated quickly, and that a teacher eventually evacuated the classroom and blocked her from following classmates.

"When I would go left, she would follow me. I was trying to go around her and she would block me so eventually I just gave up," she says.

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In addition to the lockdown, the school resource officer was called to the scene. Administrators say it’s school policy to only call a school resource officer to campus if there’s a perceived threat to student or staff safety. Officials did not elaborate on the threat, citing a need to "protect student and staff’s right to privacy."

Victoria and Drew Nelson were banned from attending the charter school ever again, with or without a mask.

Springs Charter Schools issued the following statement as a response:

"As a public charter school, Springs Charter Schools is requiring to comply with all CDPH orders, including the mask mandate, in order to protect the health and safety of our staff and students, which is our highest priority. To this end, students and staff are required to wear a mask while in school facilities. There are no religious exemptions in the state mask order nor has the right to an exemption even been recognized by the Supreme Court because it's a neutral law of general application to protect public health. We are still investigating the specifics of the incident."

The incident highlights the growing tension and confusion over COVID-19 mandates.

Legal expert Jessica Levinson says she understands why there’s confusion surrounding the rule.

"Regardless of whether or not you’re deeply religious or an atheist, Muslim or a Christian, it applies to you," she says. "People tend to hear over and over, ‘Oh, there's two reasons you can be exempt from mandates: medical reasons and religious reasons.' There's so much complexity and nuance."

The students will now remain on home independent study, where they will have full access to the curriculum, resources and teachers.