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Shoes Left Outside Holmdel High In Mask, Vax Mandate Protest

Patch logo Patch 12/1/2021 Catarina Moura
The shoes were lined up outside of Holmdel High School © Courtesy of Jill Perez The shoes were lined up outside of Holmdel High School

HOLMDEL, NJ — Hundreds of shoes lined up the entrance to Holmdel High School in an anti-mandate protest organized by a handful of parents for a few hours on Nov. 23.

The roughly 750 shoes were a "representation of the children that could potentially leave the district or the school system if mandates continue and if a vaccination or shot mandate is implemented," said Jeff Mann, 46, one of the parents who organized the "shoe drop."

"We're not anti-vaccination or anti-shot or we're not anti-mask. We're not anti-anything other than anti-mandate," Mann said.

Parents said that they feel that freedoms and first amendment rights are being taken away from their children by requiring them to wear masks in public schools.

"I want [children] to know that it is their civic duty to have peaceful protests and to have opportunities to speak their mind," said Jill Perez, who recently ran for a seat on the Holmdel Board of Education.

Although there is currently no requirement in New Jersey for school children to be vaccinated, the possibility of one in the future is a concern of some parents' minds - even as Gov. Phil Murphy said in October that he has "zero expectation that’s going to happen."

After California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to add COVID-19 vaccines to the list required for school, Murphy added: "I would never say heck no to anything; we have to leave options on the table," he said in a press conference. "At the moment we just don't need to. It's quite clear the numbers are getting better."

Regardless, some Holmdel parents feel uneasy about what might change in the future.

"We're fighting what's in front of us which is what's already been imposed. And we're anticipating there will be a vaccine or a shot mandate coming down the road because this question has been posed to Gov. Phil Murphy and he has refused to answer," Mann said.

"Judging from recent history also a lot of things have been said," Mann continued. "It's just something that we want to get in front of in case it does come down the pike."

Perez, who homeschooled her kids last year, decided to enroll most of them back in public school this year when school officials indicated there would be no mask mandate in the fall of 2021. That was before Gov. Murphy announced that there would be a statewide masking mandate in schools.

"While this announcement gives us no pleasure, I know that by taking this precaution we can keep our schools open while also keeping our children safe," Murphy said in August.

Now, Perez is debating whether she will pull her kids out of public school again or even move out of state.


Video: Hochul: Indoor mask mandate for public places with no vaccine rule (ABC 7 New York)

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"I talk to my kids every day about whether or not this is working for us as family," she said. "Every day my husband and I are questioning whether it's worth living in this state that masks us. Because other states aren't."

Perez said she became "very involved" when the state tried to remove religious exemption two years ago.

"I believe that our constitution has religious freedom in it for very good reason," she said. "You can have a mandate, but if you have religious exemption you're allowed to use it."

Mann said he has also considered alternatives to public school, but added that there are a lot of things to weigh, including monetary and social factors.

"We already pay a lot of taxes for these public schools. It's not cheap and my children have friends in school and they like going to this school, so I don't want to uproot them. It's infuriating." he said. "It becomes problematic for everybody if people decide to pull their children out of school. that creates a strain on everybody. People may lose their jobs."

Shoes cleared before the next morning

The protest shoes were dropped off between 8 and 9 p.m. on Nov. 23. By midnight they had been cleared, a school staff member told Mann.

He said parents were frustrated and felt that it defeated the whole point of the demonstration, seeing as a limited number of people ever even saw or heard of it.

Mann said that the parents organizing the demonstration informed the school district about what they were going beforehand and said that all the shoes would all be removed before lunch of the next day and then donated to charity.

Mann also said that on the morning after he spoke directly to the school principal Matt Kukoda and that the official told him that the school had to follow directives and remove the shoes.

Speaking to Patch, Interim Superintendent Lee Seitz cited safety concerns as a motive for removing the shoes.

"The shoes were removed from the entrance of the high school because they were a safety issue," Seitz said. "The shoes were collected the day they were left at the school and, when requested, returned so they could be donated.

Mann stressed that the shoes were placed "off to the side" in an organized matter.

"The demonstration didn't land," he said. "The impact was nothing — that was the frustrating part."

Perez was also upset that the shoes were not allowed to remain until the next day.

"I think our children should have seen all these shoes and been able to have a conversation about it. I've spoken with teachers in the school and they were upset they didn't have a chance to see this," she said. "There is a silencing going on in this country. That censorship is a problem."

Schools in other towns have similarly seen similar protests related to the COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates. Parents left about 500 pairs of shoes in front of Middletown High School North on Sunday night.

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