Students likely didn't expect their first day of school at Springs Charter School to kick off with a lockdown. But that's exactly what happened at the school in Temecula, Calif., after two siblings refused to wear face masks, a violation of the California Department of Public Health's mandate for public schools. The incident occurred Aug. 19, when junior Victoria Nelson and her brother, senior Drew Nelson, showed up at the school sans face coverings, claiming it went against their religious beliefs, reports FOX 11. Drew, 17, says he was sent to the principal's office right away, while administrators note 16-year-old Victoria wouldn't put her mask on or leave her classroom.
Victoria says her teacher eventually had the other students leave the room then blocked Victoria from going with them. Deputies were called, and, per a later email from the assistant principal to parents, the school then went on "soft lockdown," meaning students were locked in but teaching continued, reports NBC News. The siblings' father, Gary Nelson, says Victoria did go down to the principal's office when asked, but the principal wasn't there, so she returned to class. FOX 11 has audio of what it says is the principal confronting Victoria in the classroom, telling her, "I need you to stand up or we will have to physically remove you from this classroom."
The student's reply: "Please don't touch me." In a letter from principal Rebecca Fabozzi to the Nelsons, Fabozzi outlined all of the ways in which the siblings had violated school policies, then banned them from coming back to campus. They haven't been expelled, but instead will be on independent study at home, with access to their teachers, curriculum, and other resources. Nelson says they were told his son and daughter will be charged with trespassing if they show up at the school again.
"We thought the school would care what we believe in, but they just didn't even care enough to listen," Victoria tells FOX 11. Nelson, meanwhile, touches on how the family's Christianity comes into play. "The Bible says we're made in the image of God, and Satan tries to cover that up," he tells NBC. "A mask is a sign of oppression." He adds that a Muslim or Jew would've had their accommodations met. The school says in a statement "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." (Read more face masks stories.)