16-Year-Old Female Student Arrested at School for Not Wearing a Mask

Grace was 'standing up for all the kids who can't'
By Patricia Tolson
Patricia Tolson
Patricia Tolson
Patricia Tolson is an award-winning political columnist and investigative reporter who has worked for such news outlets as Yahoo! U.S. News and The Tampa Free Press. Her focus is covering political events and developments throughout the southeastern United States, which may have an impact on the nation as a whole.
October 13, 2021 Updated: October 13, 2021

While the National School Board Association characterized the effort of parents who voice opposition to forced masking and critical race theory (CRT) as a form of “domestic terrorism”—and asked the Department of Justice to use the Federal Bureau of Investigation against them—administrators at a school in Wyoming decided to have a 16-year-old female student arrested for not wearing a mask.

Grace Smith enjoying the snow at home in Wyoming.
Grace Smith enjoying the snow at home in Wyoming. (Photo courtesy of Grace Smith)

On Thursday, Oct. 7, Grace Smith was on her way to the nurse’s office at Laramie High School (LHS) to get ice for her shoulder, which she had injured while snowboarding. She had just returned to school from her third, two-day suspension for refusing to comply with a new mask mandate. As she walked through the hall, she was stopped by a school administrator, who asked her to come into her office. When Grace declined, another administrator closed the doors to the main class area and locked them.

While Grace was prevented from passing through the doors for not wearing a mask, other students—wearing masks below their noses, also against policy—were allowed through.

Grace was given suspension paperwork and issued a trespassing citation, which came with a fine of $500. It was the third time this ritual had played out. What made this suspension ceremony different from the others was that this time, Grace refused to leave school grounds. It was time to make her proverbial stand. So Grace sat down on the steps in the lobby.

During the hour and a half standoff, school resource officers placed the school on lockdown. Grace was a “threat” to the health safety of her fellow classmates and faculty. The police were called. They asked if she was going to leave. When she said no, they told her she was going to be arrested. Grace propped her cellphone against the steps where she had been seated to record the arrest.

The Arrest

“My brother had been on the phone with the lieutenant who is in charge of the school’s security,” Luke Smith, Grace’s uncle told The Epoch Times. “When we got off the phone with him we drove to the high school and saw other supporters standing out front.”

Luke wondered why there was only one police car and suggested another car may have gone around back to prevent people from seeing Grace arrested. They went to the back of the building. Grace was already in the car and they watched as it pulled away.

Grace being booked at the detention center in Laramie Wyoming after her Oct. 5 arrest at Laramie High School for not wearing a mask.
Grace being booked at the detention center in Laramie Wyoming after her Oct. 5 arrest at Laramie High School for not wearing a mask. (YouTube video/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

They followed the police car to the detention center. Luke recorded a video as Grace got out of the car.

“We love you, Grace!” he called to her.

Another officer came from around the building. Seeing Luke recording, he moved to block his view of Grace.

As the two officers escort Grace to the front of the building, Luke follows, recording.

“You ought to be ashamed,” Luke shouts as they take Grace inside. “All this over a face mask?”

Luke follows them into the detention center. Grace is taken through a door that has a narrow window. The same officer sees Luke is recording from the other side of the door and positions himself to block Luke’s view of Grace. The officer sits in the chair next to Grace. He is not wearing a mask.

In a second video, the unmasked officer is still blocking Luke’s view. A second masked officer stands nearby. A third, unmasked male officer enters the room in the company of a masked female officer. Luke records the sign on the door.

“Masks are required for service.”

Grace’s Family Responds

The Smith Family, Grace (left), Jacob (front) Mother Erin (center) brother Jonah (right) and Father Andy (back).
The Smith family, Grace (left), Jacob (front), mother Erin (center), brother Jonah (right), and father Andy (back). (Photo courtesy of Andy Smith)

“It’s been so amazing to witness this young lady’s grit and tenacity to rise up and stand for what is right,” Grace’s mother and father, Erin and Andy, told The Epoch Times.

“She did this at a time when people need to see courage and be encouraged to act,” they added. “As parents, we pray for our kids and try to raise them the best we know how. For us, we personally feel often inadequate for the job. Now we are humbled by God seeing Him use this young lady and this situation for His glory as if He is saying ‘SEE! This is why I made Grace the way I did! My plan and My purpose for Grace is to impact the world.’ We are so proud of Grace, amazed at who she is becoming, and blown away at how God is using her story.”

“I’m really proud of my big sister that she’s standing up for her constitutional rights,” Jonah, Grace’s 14-year-old brother, told The Epoch Times, “and I would also like to say she’s a great sister. If I was in high school I’d be right by her side.”

Jonah explained that, with the mask mandates imposed the previous school year, his “stress level was through the roof.”

“I just had a terrible time at school,” he said. To avoid the masking stress this year, Jonah decided to switch from Snowy Range Academy, a public school, and attend Laramie Christian Academy “because they don’t require masks.”

“It’s nice to have a sister who can actually stand up for herself and not be like everyone else and just stay quiet about it,” 10-year-old brother Jacob Smith added. “Masking at Snowy Range Academy was terrible because we weren’t allowed to take them off outside.”

Classmates and Parents Speak Out

“When everything happened to Grace I was kind of irritated because Grace does have a right to an education,” 17-year-old LHS student Ashlyn Price told The Epoch Times, citing that the right to an education is provided to Grace in the Wyoming Constitution.

Like Grace, Ashlyn opposes the mask mandate. While some of her peers wonder why Grace doesn’t just put on a mask, she supports Grace’s resistance because if someone doesn’t fight back “you don’t know when it’s going to end.”

Ashlyn Price and her father Travis at home in Laramie, Wyoming, Oct. 11, 2021.
Ashlyn Price and her father Travis at their home in Laramie, Wyo., on Oct. 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Travis Price)

“The school board is not above the law,” Ashlyn said. “They are not exempt from the Constitution. That is what makes the United States a free country.”

Travis Price, Ashlyn’s father, posed a question to those who feel the need to “chastise a 16-year-old girl who found the courage to stand up for her rights.”

“Where was the courage when your idols were out there having birthday parties or fundraisers and they’re not wearing masks?” Travis asked. “Where was your courage when your idols were out there handing down the mandates they themselves don’t follow and where’s your courage while your idols allow hundreds of thousands of people to come into this country unmasked, unvaxxed, and untested? The facts, the science, and more important the actions of your idols do not support their beliefs. In my opinion, our rights don’t end where their political beliefs begin.”

A mother who knows Grace spoke to The Epoch Times under the condition of anonymity. She wants to protect her two children, who also attend LHS. The mother said she admires Grace for taking a stand when so many adults are unwilling to do the same thing. “She’s brave to do what she did.”

The mother explained that wearing a mask for seven hours a day isn’t healthy for these children and many are truly suffering, including her son who has to be medicated to attend school because the mask triggers debilitating migraines.

“I feel like Grace was also standing up for all the kids who can’t,” the mother said.

Lethe Peden and her father Mike.
Lethe Peden and her father Mike. (Photo courtesy of Mike Peden)

“We heard from several of our children’s friends that Grace was first suspended and then arrested by the Laramie police for refusing to wear a mask in school,” Mike Peden told The Epoch Times. Peden’s daughter, Lethe, is also a student at LHS.

“I think this an onerous reaction from the school given that the Wyoming State Constitution requires schools to educate our children. I am against the mask mandates. I think people should be free to wear the mask and get the vaccine if they want to. But given the questionable effectiveness of the mask, I think it’s an overreach by the government and the school board to require people to wear the mask, especially in school and for long periods of time. I’m disappointed that they chose to take such a drastic legal response to Grace’s civil disobedience by having her arrested.”

“I do not agree with mask mandates,” Lethe said. “Even though I am young, I am 17, I think I still have the capability to make health decisions for myself. If people want to wear the mask that’s cool with me but please don’t ask me to wear one and don’t force me to wear one.”

Lethe said she believes “the learning environment is better without the masks,” and while some teachers and students choose to wear them, she knows a lot of teachers who say they’d rather not wear the mask in the classroom because “it helps students to see the face of the teacher.”

Hand-Written sign made by Laramie High School Physics Teacher Christopher West, posted in his classroom September 2021.
Hand-Written sign made by Laramie High School Physics Teacher Christopher West, posted in his classroom September 2021. (Photo courtesy of Grace Smith)

One teacher, however, strongly prefers to have students cover their faces. The hand-written message posted in the classroom by LHS Physics teacher Christopher West’s classroom made it very clear to his students, including Grace, precisely how he feels about masks—and them.

Grace said West is not known for humor, so students understood he was not trying to be funny. The Epoch Times reached out to West for clarification of his sign. He did not respond.

In The Beginning

“With the start of the new school year there was an outbreak of a new ‘Delta variant’ and that brought concern for schools that were getting ready to open,” Andy Smith, Grace’s father, told The Epoch Times. “So certain schools started to make policies to enforce masks based on the Delta variant and their COVID fears.”

For the first two weeks, Grace said masks were optional. However, even after the mandate was imposed, only about half of the students wore them and no one enforced the mandate. The school also continued to tell students who didn’t want to wear masks to “get exemption forms.”

That changed Sept. 8 when the school board announced it had passed a universal mask mandate that eliminated all acceptable causes for exemption—except for medical.

According to the new rules, the school board “will only grant exemptions based on health reasons,” for children with a “physical or intellectual condition that renders them unable to remove a cloth face mask independently.”

For conditions that leave children with “a need for communication assistance, which is impeded by wearing a cloth face mask” or “a condition such as autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, or a mental health disorder that makes it difficult” for children to “tolerate the use of a cloth face mask,” the school board decided these “should not be used to justify a medical exemption.”

Parents were advised that “any exemptions given before Sept. 8 will need to be re-evaluated because of the latest vote by the Board of Trustees to approve the most updated operations plan.”

According to Grace, the school has also “started a system of having teachers write down the names of all the kids who didn’t have masks on or wore them below their nose and/or below their chin and the teachers would email that list to the principal every morning, every period, every day.”

Because Grace did not qualify for an exemption under the new standard, she received her first morning suspension on Sept. 9. Frustrated by this, Grace was inspired by a post on social media calling for a nationwide walkout of high school students at 10 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 10. She started sending out text messages. According to Grace, around 80 students and 30 parents showed up and stood on the corner of Grand and Boulder Drive from 10:30 to 2 p.m. They even made it in a local paper.

The Run Around and Double-Talk

In a proactive measure to assist his daughter in her effort to be given an exemption for wearing a mask, Andy sent an email to Albany County School Board Chairman Janice Marshall advising that Grace made the decision not to wear a mask at school and that he and her mother supported her decision.

In the exchange that followed, Andy explained he had also “looked into the legality of the mask policy” and suggested “it appears the Board is operating outside their authority” because Wyoming’s 2020 “state of emergency” had “long since expired.” Furthermore, Andy said the State and County Board of Health had informed him that “all protocols surrounding COVID-19 are recommendations only.”

In response, Marshall referenced a statement made by Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon on Sept. 26 and the current mask policies established by the board.

In his statement, Gordon said he believes that the same implied authority claimed by schools to impose dress codes—in order to “provide a safe environment for students”—also gives a school board “broad authority” to force kids to wear masks “even though it is not expressly stated in statute.”

Andy also contacted Albany County School Superintendent Jubal Yenny, who responded with the same information provided by Marshall.

However, Yenny also included a warning that “students who do not follow the school board rules and do not wear a face covering will no longer be permitted in District facilities starting September 29.”

“Further refusal to follow school rules may result in disciplinary measures including suspension and expulsion,” Yenny added.

The Epoch Times also reached out to Marshall. She replied with the same information she provided to Andy. However, she did not explain what gave the school board the authority to supersede the rights provided to Grace’s parents regarding healthcare decisions by the Wyoming Constitution.

When The Epoch Times asked Marshall to provide clarity, she did not respond.

The Epoch Times reached out to Yenny with the same questions. He did not respond.

The Epoch Times also reached out to Gordon.

“As you have been in communication with the school district, you appear to already have this information,” Michael Pearlman replied on behalf of the governor, providing the same information. “The Governor is a strong proponent of government closest to the people and believes that this issue is best addressed by locally elected school boards.”

The Wyoming Constitution

“When we started down this path to search for the legal grounds for their policy, we did not approach this about the mask or about the coronavirus or the efficacy of the mask or anything like that,” Andy insisted. “We approached it based on what we found in Article 1, Section 38 of the Wyoming Constitution.”

Article 1, Section 38 of the Wyoming Constitution (pdf) clearly states:

“(a) Each competent adult shall have the right to make his or her own health care decisions. The parent, guardian or legal representative of any natural person shall have the right to make health care decisions for that person.”

Subsection (c) makes it clear that only the “legislature may determine reasonable and necessary restrictions on the rights granted under this section to protect the health and general welfare of the people or to accomplish the other purposes set forth in the Wyoming Constitution.”

Article 2, Section 1 of the Wyoming Constitution states that “the powers of the government” of Wyoming “are divided into three distinct departments: The legislative, executive and judicial, and no person or collection of persons charged with the exercise of powers properly belonging to one of these departments shall exercise any powers properly belonging to either of the others.”

On Thursday, Sept. 30, Grace received a two-day suspension and a $500 trespass citation. Present at the meeting was Laramie High School Principal Jeff Lewis, Yenny, Grace, and her father, who recorded the meeting. While Andy argued that the suspension violated Grace’s Constitutional rights, Lewis said he was advised to suspend Grace by his supervisor and legal counsel.

Albany County School Superintendent Jubal Yenny, Laramie High School Principal Jess Lewis and Grace Smith are seated during the Sept. 20 suspension meeting with Grace's father Andy Smith recording the proceedings
Albany County School Superintendent Jubal Yenny, Laramie High School Principal Jess Lewis and Grace Smith are seated during the Sept. 20 suspension meeting with Grace’s father Andy Smith recording the proceedings. (YouTube video/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

“You’re sitting there making that argument and that argument is not going to be made here,” Yenny said, insisting he has “the authority by statute” to “be able to suspend her for willful disobedience.”

On Tuesday, Oct. 5, Grace returned to school. Because she did not wear a mask, she was again called to Principal Lewis’ office where she was issued another two-day suspension and a second $500 trespassing citation.

On Thurs., Oct. 7, Grace was issued another two-day suspension, a third $500 trespassing citation, and arrested.

According to Grace’s father, his daughter’s activism had drawn unwanted attention to the confusion and chaos going on at her school. Despite the mandate, threats, and bullying, kids were not complying with the full measure of rules handed down by the school board. Other kids were getting suspended as well. “They were losing control,” Andy said.

To help with mounting costs, Grace’s parents set up a GoFundMe page. Because the account was related to the resistance of a mask mandate, GoFundMe administrators shut down the account. They opened another account through a Christian crowdfunding group called GiveSendGo and another page called Stand With Grace.

While the current mask mandate was approved by the Board of Trustees on Sept. 8, and is set to expire Oct. 15, the board maintained it “has the opportunity to extend the requirement” at its Oct. 13 meeting.

Patricia Tolson
Patricia Tolson
Patricia Tolson is an award-winning political columnist and investigative reporter who has worked for such news outlets as Yahoo! U.S. News and The Tampa Free Press. Her focus is covering political events and developments throughout the southeastern United States, which may have an impact on the nation as a whole.