Teachers in many school districts across the nation are looking out at half empty classrooms as the Delta Variant of Covid 19 ravages their rosters. Other districts have far fewer empty seats. One of the main variables in the equation is mask mandates. Quite simply put, schools that have mask mandates have far fewer empty seats in their classrooms than those schools which remain mask optional. This begs the question, what, besides public pressure, is keeping so many school districts from mandating masks? It seems that everyone would agree that we need as many kids to be in school as possible. We have a proven way to make that happen yet, it’s not happening everywhere, and it’s becoming troubling.
We can argue all day as to how effective masks are or are not in preventing the spread of the virus. Science will tell us that masks do work at least to some extent and while I’m not math expert, I do seem to remember learning that some is greater than none. Nobody is claiming that wearing masks is 100% effective. That is, of course, far from true. But they have proven to make a significant difference. Between actual Covid-positive students and the many more who are quarantined because of close contact with positive students, there are an awful lot of students sitting at home right now. Because of science and, in the case of my state, Indiana, a new protocol issued by the governor, the number of students sitting at home could now be reduced to only those who are Covid-positive—a drastically lower number. Yet, many districts are still reluctant to change their policies. There are examples of school districts that I am aware of in my home state of Indiana as evidence of just how this works.
One district began the year as masks optional. They had early struggles with high positivity rates and were quarantining large numbers of students. This district took the decision to change their policy on masks after the start of the year and it raised a lot of controversy. Many parents complained and demonstrated at the school board meetings. Building administrators across the district were forced to respond to angry phone calls and emails. These are scenes we’ve all seen repeated ad nauseum across the news and social media platforms. But this district held firm to their decision to mandate masks and once the dust settled, the results were undeniable. Now there are very few students who are missing school in that district due to Covid—only the handful of positive cases—because quarantining students who wear masks for contact tracing isn’t necessary. Other districts of which I am aware have continued to stick to their guns and remain mask optional. Reports from some of these districts reveal a staggering number of students who are quarantined—some even having returned from quarantine only to be forced go back again—due to contact tracing because they were not wearing masks.
If the scientific data on the effectiveness of masks did not convince these districts to require masks, perhaps the announcement from Indiana Governor Holcomb last night will. Holcomb announced a new protocol for the Hoosier state which says that schools with mask mandates will no longer have to quarantine kids through contact tracing. As stated earlier, contact tracing quarantines make up the vast majority of the current student absences. With this new development, I would hope to see many school districts announcing a switch to required masks within the next few days.
Failure to reach this decision would clearly be detrimental to the health, well-being, and education of large numbers of students. What is there to argue about?
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