Fox News tries to make hero out of student who broke mask rules amid COVID surge

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The student had already been suspended twice for refusing to wear a mask in school.

Fox News is cheering on a Wyoming teenager who violated her school's mask mandate in an incident that led to her arrest.

The school district in question instituted the mask mandate after the number of COVID-19 cases exploded in the area.

"A bizarre lockdown at a Wyoming high school with a 16-year-old getting arrested and removed from campus in handcuffs for refusing to wear a mask," host Todd Pirro said, introducing the segment.

Later in the interview, Pirro praised Smith for "taking a stand" and said the arrest represented a "sad state of affairs."

Pirro interviewed the student, Grace Smith, and her father, Andrew Smith, on "Fox & Friends First" on Tuesday. The network aired a YouTube video taken by Andrew Smith that showed his daughter being handcuffed and removed from her high school in Laramie, Wyoming, on Oct. 7.

"I thought it was absolutely ridiculous. I wanted to go back to class so I could learn," Smith told Pirro. "And I never thought they would actually arrest me. Honestly, it really surprised me to see them put me into cuffs and take me to the jail."

Grace Smith has told local news outlets that she intentionally violated the school's mask policy. Before her arrest, she had already been fined for trespassing on school property and had been suspended from school on two separate occasions.

The Albany County school had already suspended Smith twice, for a period of two days each, for not complying with the mask mandate. Smith was told that each time she entered the school without a mask, she would face suspension and a citation for misdemeanor trespassing.

Smith told the Laramie Boomerang that the first time she was suspended, she "just left" the school, but then spoke to her family's attorney and "decided to push it." Smith entered the school without a mask for the second time and was fined $500.

On Oct. 7, Smith was once again ticketed for trespassing but refused to leave school grounds, leading to her arrest. Smith said school officials had warned her about the arrest.

"They came up to me probably 20 minutes before I was arrested and said that if you continue to not leave, we will arrest you," Smith told the Laramie Boomerang.

The school district enacted a mask policy in August "in response to the rapid rise of cases in Albany County," according to a school district press release.

In mid-July, there were 3.3 new cases of COVID-19 per day in Albany County, according to the Wyoming Department of Health. In mid-August, there were 17.8 new cases per day — five times as many compared to the previous month.

The Albany County School District's mask mandate was set to expire in September, but it has since been extended through October.

Only 42.4% of Wyoming residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to the national average of 56.6%.

The school's actions come amid parents' concerns across the country about children contracting and transmitting COVID-19 in schools. A mother in Waukesha, Wisconsin, recently filed a lawsuit in federal court against the school district and the school board after her son tested positive for COVID. The boy was in a class with an infected student who did not wear a mask.

While children are less susceptible to the virus than adults, they can transmit it to adults and they can die from it.

Fox News' interview with Smith is the latest amplification by the conservative outlet of the voices of people resisting local masking and vaccine mandates. This is out of step with Fox News' own strict COVID protocols, which require its employees to show proof of vaccination or negative test results.

In this case, Fox criticized Laramie police officers for using handcuffs to restrain Smith. In the past, the network has defended police officers who have used excessive force on Black children.

In 2015, a video of a white police officer in McKinney, Texas, pulling his gun on a group of Black teenagers at a pool party went viral. Fox News ran a segment about the incident, during which McKinney Police Cpl. Eric Casebolt threw a teenage girl onto a sidewalk and handcuffed her.

"The girl was no saint either," former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly said at the time.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.