School Report Card: This week, teen sues school over Trump face mask policy and student newspaper halts over mental health concerns

Elise Solé
·9-min read
Student journalists at the University of South Carolina paused the online student-run paper, The Daily Gamecock during the week of Oct. 19 for a mental health break. (Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
Student journalists at the University of South Carolina paused the online student-run paper, The Daily Gamecock during the week of Oct. 19 for a mental health break. (Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Students are headed back to class amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to keep you posted on what’s unfolding throughout U.S. schools — K-12 as well as colleges — Yahoo Life is running a weekly wrap-up featuring news bites, interviews and updates on the ever-unfolding situation.

Teen sues Pa. school district over alleged suspension for ‘Women for Trump’ face mask

Morgan Earnest, a high school sophomore in Lewistown, Pa., is suing Mifflin County School District for allegedly suspending her over a pro-Trump face mask and shirt. The Oct. 20 federal lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, claims the district dress code that bans political ideology is unconstitutional.

In the lawsuit, Earnest’s mother, Linda Kohler, is listed as the plaintiff.

The 15-year-old says that on Oct. 12, she attended Mifflin County High School wearing a face mask that read, “Women for Trump” and a shirt that said “Trump 2020 Keep America Great” on the front. On the back, the shirt read, “Trump the Sequel Make Liberals Cry Again.” However, administrators allegedly asked her to turn her mask and her shirt inside out or be sent home for the day, as the clothing violated the recently instated rule on political garb.

According to a district letter sent to Yahoo Life by Mifflin County School District superintendent James A. Estep, the dress code was created on Oct. 5 because students complained that political displays, including ones interpreted as hate or intolerance, made them feel unsafe.

Earnest refused to turn her Trump apparel inside out and was suspended for the rest of the school day, read the complaint. She “wishes to express her peaceful support of President Trump’s reelection campaign and otherwise express her political beliefs” and argues that the items, which she’s worn to school before, have not disrupted the learning environment. She wants her educational record wiped clean and for the school to drop the dress code.

A 15-year-old girl from Pennsylvania is suing her school district for allegedly banning her "Women for Trump" face mask. (Photo: Morgan Earnest)
A 15-year-old girl from Pennsylvania is suing her school district for allegedly banning her "Women for Trump" face mask. (Photo: Morgan Earnest)

Estep tells Yahoo Life in a statement, “We strongly disagree with the allegations in the complaint, including the veracity of those allegations. We stand by our decision, which was made in the interests of safety and to ensure students’ educational environment would not continue to be disrupted. The decision was made after careful consultation with our solicitor and additional special legal counsel.”

The district, in which classes started on Sept. 8, requires students to wear face masks (or district-provided shields or neck gaiters), even when maintaining six feet of distance. As of Friday, there are 325 COVID-19 cases in Mifflin County, Pa. There are 182,436 confirmed COVID-19 cases statewide, according to Friday data from the Pa. Department of Health.

Earnest’s lawsuit follows incidents in Texas and Washington, where students were reportedly disciplined for displaying Trump flags in the background of their remote classes.

‘We’re not OK’: South Carolina college paper goes dark to ‘prioritize mental health’

Journalists at the University of South Carolina in Columbia took a weeklong break from publishing the online student-run paper, The Daily Gamecock, to avoid burnout. In an Oct. 18 editorial “Why We’re Going Dark” the staff admitted, “We’re not OK.”

“This semester has been taxing for a number of reasons,” reads the article. “The days have become a structureless blur of breaking news, online meetings, quarantines and, of course, our usual course loads ... there was a general understanding that we were not well and that there was nothing we could do about it. We are choosing to disrupt that narrative.” The student news outlet will slowly start publishing on Oct. 26, and resume its usual schedule on Nov. 2.

Co-managing editor Nick Sullivan, 21, tells Yahoo Life that the newsroom can now only accommodate six of the 100 staffers to effectively social distance and the pandemic-ridden news cycle caused frustration. “We had a handful of people saying, ‘I need to step back,’ and we realized we needed to accommodate them,” he tells Yahoo Life.

Sullivan says the staff is not criticizing the school, though the cancellation of fall break from Oct. 15 to Oct. 16 didn’t help (during that time, the school held classes as usual). The fall semester began on Aug. 20 with face-to-face and online courses “as to eliminate large, in-person classes of more than 100 students.” Per its COVID-19 dashboard, the school has 22 active COVID-19 cases and has reported a total of 2,562 positive COVID-19 cases since Aug. 1.

A university spokesperson tells Yahoo Life that student media “serves a valuable role and adds to the richness of our campus life.” However, “we also recognize that they are first and foremost students, tasked with balancing multiple responsibilities during difficult times. It’s not up to us to pass judgment on their collective staff decision, but to offer support and resources to any member of our community — student, faculty or staff member — who is feeling overwhelmed.”

Richland County, where the University of South Carolina is located, has nearly 17,000 positive COVID-19 cases and South Carolina has more than 168,000 positive COVID-19 cases, according to the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control. On Thursday, the state announced 40 confirmed deaths, totaling 3,526 confirmed deaths in the state, reportedly its highest death toll in six weeks.

Last week, during a campus visit with Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, university president Bob Caslen explained that students receive a weekly mental health survey. “Twenty to 25 percent say that they are struggling with COVID here on campus,” he said. “Both students and faculty.”

In August, a CDC report found that U.S. adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have “disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and increased thoughts of suicide.” The data was compiled in June, while much of the country was on lockdown. And September research published in The Journal of Medical Internet Research reported that 71 percent of university students report more stress and anxiety during the pandemic.

The findings of our study highlight the urgent need to develop interventions and preventive strategies to address the mental health of college students,” wrote the authors.

Florida governor says school closures ‘should be off the table’

This week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said school closures should be “off the table” during a Jacksonville news conference, as the state reported more than 770,000 COVID-19 cases.

“Going forward, whatever the future may hold, school closures should be off the table,” he said. “They don’t do anything to mitigate COVID, but they do cause catastrophic damage to the physical, mental and social well-being of our youth.” DeSantis slammed teacher unions for a “bogus” July lawsuit protesting the full-time opening of brick-and-mortar schools in an emergency order from the Florida Department of Education.

DeSantis shared his remarks at Jacksonville Classical Academy, a charter school that recommends but does not require face masks. Head of school Dabid Withun tells Yahoo Life the school has recorded zero cases since opening on Aug. 20 with a cohort model, whereby each classroom operates as an independent “family,” interacting only with each other, except during P.E. or recess when classrooms of the same grade mingle. The school is open five days a week with a remote learning option that will end in January. The surrounding county of Duval has more than 33,000 COVID-positive residents.

The governor has strongly advocated for the reopening of schools, even defending college students who disobeyed social distancing rules he deemed “draconian,” reported the Washington Post. He has prohibited imposing fines against those who refuse face masks in public and was slow to order beaches closed when the pandemic accelerated in March, despite mayors in Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale taking matters into their own hands.

San Diego State University issues stay-at-home advisory for Halloween

San Diego State University students will spend Halloween at home, regardless of whether they live on campus, per a stay-at-home school advisory in effect beginning Friday to Nov. 2. Students are only allowed to leave their homes for essential tasks, including to vote. The guidance, issued last week, follows a ban on gatherings of more than three households, even when held outdoors, by the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency.

“Of note, this is not due to an increase in cases, as the university is continuing to see a steady decline and has several days over the last few weeks of no new cases,” an SDSU spokesperson tells Yahoo Life.

The university started in-person and virtual classes on Aug. 24 but quickly went all remote after 184 students living on and off campus tested positive for COVID-19. The cases prompted the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency to investigate 14 individual clusters, university president Adela de la Torre, said in a Sept. 4 letter. “Also, to date, more than 457 violations have been issued in response to COVID-19 policy violations,” she wrote.

Since classes began, the university has reported 1,237 positive COVID-19 cases, which includes students, employees and campus visitors. San Diego County, with 53,498 cases since February, was removed from California’s “watchlist” for improving transmission rates and cases, among other improvements. Over the summer, Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced the County Data Monitoring List (now replaced by the Blueprint for a Safer Economy) flagging COVID-19 hot spots, in the state with 886,865 cases and 17,262 deaths from COVID-19 as of Friday.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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