Anti-mask student fundraiser blows past $75K

The student whose arrest caused a lockdown at LHS has garnered praise, from Sen. Anthony Bouchard to Fox News. The attention has brought cash, with which her family plans to fight the mask mandate.

A fundraiser to support a Laramie High School student and her father in their crusade against the district’s mask mandate has netted more than $77,000 in less than a week.

The cash continues to pour in as right-wing state politicians and news outlets both local and national heap praise on the student for taking a stand.

“What the heck are we doing that nice young ladies like yourself are being threatened?” said Todd Piro, host of the early morning program Fox and Friends First. “All because you won’t wear a mask, you’re being locked away. This is a sad state of affairs.”

Grace Smith, 16, has been suspended repeatedly for refusing to comply with the Albany County School District’s mask mandate.

When she refused to leave school grounds following her third consecutive suspension, she was cited for trespassing, the entire school was placed on lockdown and she was ultimately arrested. During the lockdown and throughout the next day, students and parents were on edge, fearing more disruptive anti-mask action or even violence.

Andy Smith, Grace’s father, told the Laramie Reporter Friday that he plans to sue not only the Albany County School District, but also individuals who enforced the district’s mandate, including Superintendent Jubal Yennie, LHS Principal Jeff Lewis, and individual school board trustees.

National attention brings big bucks

To bankroll this campaign — and in an effort to cover Grace’s legal expenses and the legal expenses of students across the state who might wish to follow Grace’s example — Andy began crowdfunding online, first on GoFundMe and then through the Christian fundraising site Give Send Go.

In the first 24 hours, the GoFundMe had raised more than $7,000, including donations from Taylor Haynes, Rep. Ocean Andrew (HD-46) and possibly University of Wyoming Police Chief Mike Samp. (Chief Samp has not responded to requests to confirm or disconfirm that he is the “Mike Samp” who donated through GoFundMe.)

The Smiths moved their fundraiser to the new site, Give Send Go, when an account review slowed down the process. 

“It is sad but not surprising they would sensor Grace's message,” Andy writes in an update, adding the $7,300 raised so far would be refunded.

But account reviews are run-of-the-mill on GoFundMe.

“​​Our team will sometimes temporarily pause outgoing withdrawals to an organizer or beneficiary's bank account while we review the fundraiser,” GoFundMe states on its support page. “Usually this is because we need more information about the fundraiser to ensure donors understand how their donations are handled and to help make the fundraiser as successful as possible.”

Andy set up a new fundraiser on Give Send Go — a site that’s been criticized for helping to raise more than $500,000 for the shooter who killed two people during unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and separately for allowing Jan. 6 Capitol rioters to crowdsource legal fees.

The Give Send Go fundraiser has so far raised $77,000, no doubt helped along by regional and national attention that right-wing politicians and media figures brought to Grace’s situation.

But Grace was first featured in a Laramie Boomerang article published the morning after her arrest. The Boomerang article has drawn the ire of some, who criticized the story’s lack of balance, as well as its failure to feature students disrupted by the lockdown or mention the overwhelming scientific consensus on the effectiveness of masks.

“Whether or not it was on purpose, this article provided ammunition for more publicity stunts to interrupt my children’s education,” Mollie Hand writes in a letter to the editor. “Do not let our town’s newspaper be a platform providing free publicity to those who aim to interrupt the education of others.”

Bouchard lends his support

Grace and Andy also appeared in a video alongside Sen. Anthony Bouchard (SD-06). An earlier story on the Laramie Reporter stated the video “appears to be taken down,” but that is not true.

Instead, Bouchard had blocked this reporter and other individuals on Facebook where the video was shared. To those who are blocked, links to the video appear broken.

Bouchard did not respond to a request for comment.

In the video with Bouchard, Andy Smith repeats his central argument — that no one can point to a specific law allowing police officers to arrest students for not wearing masks.

In fact, Grace was not arrested for refusing to mask up. She was arrested for trespassing after being asked to leave the LHS campus, which she was asked to do for disobeying the district’s mask mandate.

In the video, Bouchard appears sympathetic to Andy’s line of reasoning, calling the mandate “COVID tyranny.”

“I’ve seen from the beginning of this that everything is about following orders,” he said. “It’s all about compliance, but I don’t see there’s a real direction we’re going other than making people fit into a mold.”

When the Albany County School Board passed the mandate in September, several trustees explicitly stated their goals in supporting a mask mandate. For many, it came down to keeping schools open. Masking in schools reduces the number of people who must quarantine following a positive COVID case in the classroom.

“For me, it’s about keeping kids in school,” Trustee Beth Bear said. “I would hope that we can agree — based on what we’ve seen in the last year and a half — the hybrid model and the virtual model I don’t think are the best education for our kids. I don’t think it’s best for their education, for their emotional and social wellbeing.”

Other trustees spoke of the need to have “scientific humility,” having just listened to several scientists and local doctors speak in support of masking.

“There’s an unwritten expectation that the parents, guardians and caretakers of students have … that they are returned to you healthy, unharmed and safe,” Trustee Lawrence Perea said. “This is not about masks. This is not about a cultural war. This is about me fulfilling that obligation.”

The school board is scheduled to revisit the mask mandate tomorrow during a virtual meeting. If no action is taken, the mandate will expire at the end of the week.

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