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It’s time to drop the schools’ mandate and opt for mask choice

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It has been said that universal masking is optimal, a kind of “gold standard.” And yet, I’m sure many educators, students and parents would agree that what we are seeing in our classrooms today is far from the gold standard.

How do we reconcile this?

The answer is mask choice for our students and our teachers. 

Although we’ve been waiting and watching the numbers, many of us have come to realize that there will never be a date, a fact, a figure or an absolute number that provides a universal level of comfort. In terms of development of the brain, the younger a child is, the more critical is each day that passes…so while some people are just fine waiting this out “a little bit longer,” some are not.

Will our children catch up on their learning loss? Will their brains compensate and just figure out the world anew once we take the masks off?  I am hopeful, I really am! But I also wonder why we are so committed to kicking the can further down the road instead of honestly evaluating these policies, not only how well they’re “working” on Covid transmission, but how well they’re “working” for education and child development.  The single factor in decision-making has been the public health factor, and that is certainly understandable.  But when will we start balancing the public health crisis that exists right now with the public health crises of our future? In the case of the mental health of our children and adolescents, that crisis is unfolding quickly.

There are many data points to consider if we can just agree to open the conversation and honestly discuss the impacts on our children without fear of being called selfish or reckless. I am hopeful here too.

We all navigate risk every single day and we can continue to do so thoughtfully in regard to this pandemic. There are many ways that students and teachers can continue to keep each other safe without universal masking, but the idea of a student carrying the burden of harming or protecting the adults around them must be re-evaluated.  This is especially true now as the adults they protect have access to all of the protections possible, through vaccinations, boosters, natural immunity, through readily available surgical and KN-95 masks and through frequent testing.

Children who need additional protection can continue to mask.  We should ensure that our students and school communities embrace acceptance around different choices so that students and teachers can continue to mask as they see fit.

Teachers have been working so hard to make learning meaningful and engaging for our students, and I want to honor their incredible dedication during these most challenging of times. Our child is thrilled to be back at school, and she has had a great year and we’re so grateful. This isn’t just about my kid though, I have spoken to many other families who have kids who are struggling with universal masking. A one-size-fits-all policy is unacceptable after two years.

Mask choice is not about anyone’s political loss or gain. It is about protecting the most vulnerable (our children), and it is also out of respect for both the individual child and the greater good. I’ve heard many times that people who are advocating for mask choice are just tired, that we are “over it.” The reality is that many of us who are advocating for school mask choice are still very much “in it.”

We see our kids in Connecticut following Covid restrictions every single day.  This is still very real for us. We launder the dirty masks, we comfort our children during the after-school meltdowns, we note how elated they are on playdates to really SEE each other, and we have to answer the question of “how much longer, Mom?”  Although we have not been in the school building this entire time, parents are not removed or out-of-touch from the reality of the impacts on our own kids.

I understand and accept that not everyone sees these mandates the same way, but I just hope we can keep the conversation open.  My mother was ambivalent about the idea of lifting the mask mandates for kids. Then she went into her office for the first time in months, and had to wear a mask for a 90-minute meeting at work. She was surprised at how much harder it was for her personally to focus and engage in the conversation. When we spoke again, I pointed to my 3-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter, and said, “can you imagine seven hours a day at their ages?” Her perspective changed dramatically that day when she truly realized how long these kids are masked each day, and for how many days and months.

Mask choice is about empathy. Mask choice honors that there are no absolutes, that there is likely no one right answer here.  We need to move forward cautiously, with compassion, and with choice for our children and our teachers, and we need to move forward now.

Christina Rothstein

16 comments

DrewT February 15, 2022 at 9:09 am

Bravo Christina!! I don’t think anyone could have written that any better! You couldn’t be more right and it’s beyond time to UNMASK our children NOW! If you want to have your child continue to wear one that’s YOUR CHOICE! If 75K can watch the Super Bowl and 18K can watch games inside arenas nightly all unmasked there is absolutely ZERO Reasons why our children should continue to be made to suffer! Thank You Christina for keep up this fight and all you have done!!

Barclay Bowen February 15, 2022 at 9:16 am

Brilliantly written! Not only are your words rational and reasonable, but they are kind and respectful. We have all been through two+ years of this awful pandemic and it’s time we evaluate where we are and how we move forward for our children. Thank you so much for this perspective.

Lindsay February 15, 2022 at 9:31 am

Thank you, Christina for a well-written piece based off empathy and reason. The fact remains that adults enforcing these mandates on children have the luxury to take off the mask whenever they please, and they do. Children deserve that same choice while in school.

Ursula Caterbone February 15, 2022 at 10:34 am

Asking your child to wear a mask isn’t just about protecting them, it’s also about protecting everyone else. Having them stop now is a lesson in selfishness. Is that what parents should be teaching their children?

Mark Scanlon February 15, 2022 at 11:10 am

My appraisal of the efficacy and effects of mask-wearing in schools has evolved to the point where I now believe that the drawbacks of mask-wearing in school outweigh the benefits. I found this interview with a prominent doctor/researcher to be enlightening and pretty persuasive. It’s a bit long and somewhat technical, though not unreasonably so. I found it worth my time to work my way through it.

https://vinayprasadmdmph.substack.com/p/tracy-beth-hoeg-md-phd-the-interview?r=17pa2o

(I’m pretty sure you don’t need a substack subscription to access it.)

Admiral February 15, 2022 at 2:14 pm

The latest is that Duff is calling for masks to stay on in school until the end of this school year.
If the Far Left had their way, we would be masked until the years 2053.
Norwalk, CT might be the last city in America to keep its mask mandate.
After all, Norwalk, CT was the last city in America to begin work on a mall.
Everything Duff and this Mayor due are backwards.
And we don’t need a new Norwalk High School. What a waste of millions.

Christine February 15, 2022 at 2:59 pm

The main argument you’re making is that you want to open the conversation to include a discussion about how masks may be affecting kids’ mental health and development. Great, let’s do that—you bring up some good points. What I have a problem with is the title of your article. “It’s time to drop the schools’ mandate and opt for mask choice.” NO. Let’s have these discussions FIRST. We need to hash all of this out and come up with a clear plan based on data and expert guidance. Once we have a strategy in place, then we can make a plan to unmask our kids. For those that agree with me, please check out this simple petition: https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/science-not-politics?fbclid=IwAR3wjvo9kqvgsAsoItiQTPdTdobDVtI–LFY65mST3pJ-wkIzald-d-_SQQ

Ben February 15, 2022 at 4:46 pm

Sadly, @Ursula I think the only selfish on here is you.

Make it optional. Its that simple. Have your 5 or 6 year old child wear mask all day long. Thats your choice. The rest of us should have the ability to make that call for our children.

Ct. V February 16, 2022 at 7:10 am

There’s a real case to be made for stopping masks soon given the lower transmission statistics and availability of vaccines for everyone in elementary school and up. I think running a test to go mask optional as of the end of the month as is currently planned probably makes sense. That being said the idea of “wear a mask if you want to” is the antithesis of why we wear masks which is to prevent us from passing illness to others. I wear my mask for my classmates and they wear theirs for me. I also hope parents will have their kids who aren’t feel 100% either stay home or at a minimum wear a mask when they aren’t feeling well (and I say the same if adults).

Piberman February 16, 2022 at 12:18 pm

Are masks the real issue for Norwalk’s public schools ?

Or is it the persistent failure of our City’s public schools to educate our kids so most of them meet CT Edu Dept standards for graduation ?

Is the real issue that our City leaders – Common council and City Hall – fail to demand that our forever challenged and poorly qualified BOE demand our public school system meet CT Edu Dept standards for student graduation ?

Our kids may be inconvenienced by masks. But they’ll be truly handicapped receiving a public school education that doesn’t meet CT Edu Dept standards.

Where is the City elected leader demanding much better public school performance ?
Have they all lost their voices ? Or just don’t care because students don’t vote ?

James February 16, 2022 at 10:02 pm

Unfortunately everybody, none of our decision making or dependence on China has changed. In fact it’s gotten worse by becoming more dependent not just for every single good in our households, but now PPE as well. While I strongly dislike masks, we’ve created a world where future generations are going to be increasingly exposed to foreign health threats. Perhaps it’s good that we are preparing our children to adapt, they will have to teach their kids to mask up until greed is acknowledged and adults wake up.

Christina February 18, 2022 at 4:30 pm

Yes go to mask choice for Norwalk on change.org!! Call and email mayor, BOE, super and health dept. That enough is enough and all surrounding districts are optional. We need to follow suit. The masks are already off during mask breaks, recess and lunch and right after school for playdates. Transmission is super low and everyone has everyone’s germs already. When kids are out no other kids in the class have been testing positive. No masks at super bowl, no masks at school like Sweden has done this whole time.

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