School board meetings have never had the national spotlight quite like they do right now. What was once considered to be dull, monthly procedural gatherings that very few members of the public ever attended are now a hotbed for national attention, political debate, and, in some cases, even violent outbursts—because of the contentious topic of masks in schools.
My oldest daughter is five years old and is just a few days away from embarking on the first year of her school career. Kindergarten is a pretty big deal. For our kids, for us, and for so many reasons. She will no longer belong to just her father and I, we now have to start sharing her with the world. It's bittersweet. It's emotional. It's exciting.
It's also terrifying, because we're still in the middle of a seemingly endless deadly pandemic. A pandemic that has already claimed and permanently impaired hundreds of thousands of lives in the U.S. A pandemic that is only getting worse due to the delta variant and how it preys on unvaccinated hosts.
Hospitals are not overwhelmed with people suffering from vaccine injuries—they're overwhelmed with unvaccinated people who are dying from the virus. Over 189 million Americans have received the COVID vaccine and survived just fine; over 635,000 people have died from COVID in the U.S.
Data doesn't lie. People do.
And my daughter's school, like many others around the country, is not requiring students to wear masks.
Despite the updated guidance regarding masks in schools from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Despite the copious amount of scientific data and peer-reviewed research that shows how vital mask-wearing is in preventing the spread of COVID. Despite the fact that all children under the age of 11 cannot yet receive the COVID vaccine.
Something really important is getting lost in the inordinate chaos over masking in schools: It is not the job of school districts and school boards to cater to angry parents.
It is the job—the duty—of school administrators, staff, and school boards to set a public example and to advocate for the greater good. Putting students at risk is a dereliction of that duty.
I'm so tired of hearing, "I'm doing what I think is best for my family." Because this is a public health crisis, your individual choices directly impact everyone around you. Because this is a public health crisis, your personal opinions and choices—when they could bring others harm—do not, actually, deserve to be honored.
At the end of last school year, many of us thought this virus would be practically eradicated by the end of 2021. And now, because of the variant, we're in a very different, far more serious place than we were just a few months ago. If everyone wore masks last year without issue, why would that change this year?
What lesson are we teaching our children here? That the angry opinions of a mob of people spreading misinformation have more value than productive, caring members of a community? That if you complain loudly enough, you get your way? That disabled students deserve discrimination (because not mandating masks in order to protect those who are extra vulnerable is, indeed, ableist discrimination)?
Do you know who you almost never hear complaining about masks in schools? Kids. Actual kids.
My daughter will be wearing a mask. We've talked about it a lot this summer. She knows she may be the only one, or one of a very small number of kids wearing one. I don't expect her to be bullied about it in kindergarten, but she could be. She's outgoing and confident, but she can recognize when her feelings are being hurt and it pains her like it would anyone else. She might become insecure about wearing her mask. I'm prepared for many future conversations about mask-wearing as long as her school refuses to require them (yet they're somehow able to enforce the dress code and police the clothing of female students, make that make sense).
But she's going to wear her mask. Every day. To keep her safe, and to keep others safe. Even if the efficacy of her mask is reduced because a majority of others in her classroom aren't wearing one, anything is better than zero percent efficacy.
We have the choice, every day, to do the right thing for the greater good.
Why on earth are we sacrificing the health of our children instead?