In Northeast Ohio and across the country, parents are crowding boards of education meetings to protest policies of having children, teachers and other employees wear masks inside buildings.
People clearly are angry and aiming that rage at school officials who are trying to protect children and adults while in school. Facing an irate crowd isn’t easy. And neither is making decisions for the greater good of the school population.
Logically, we should unite to protect each other against the coronavirus. Instead, the coronavirus is dividing us into the vaxxers and anti-vaxxers, maskers and anti-maskers. While we fought each other, pediatric COVID-19 cases spiked last month in Ohio when the Delta variant became the dominant strain in the U.S.
On Monday, more than 100 residents stormed the West Geauga Local School Board meeting spewing insults and threats. They spoke the loudest against the district’s policy requiring masks indoors for the first quarter of school through Oct. 22. We could not hear the voices of people who support the school mask policy, but they were there.
One parent said she wanted to speak publicly to thank the board for following recommendations of health officials and instituting a mask policy. But she was muffled by the shouts and misinformation from people, many of whom did not live in the district.
That included Josh Mandel, a former state representative and state treasurer who is running for the U.S. Senate seat on the Republican ticket. He is from Beachwood, clearly outside the West G district. His statements were scientifically inaccurate, inflammatory and obviously meant to rouse the crowd.
Parents also spoke up – for and against – mask policies at BOE meetings this week in Kenston, Orange and Solon earlier this month.
Generally, school policies have called for masks while indoors and on school buses, regardless of vaccination status, with some social distancing inside, proper venting and strict cleaning schedules.
Parents claimed that mask policies violated their constitutional rights. Masks are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, they say. This argument is a far reach in our estimation. Laws prohibiting smoking inside buildings and requiring seatbelts while driving in a car are not mentioned in the Constitution. Yet they are laws in place to protect people, even those who feel restricted by them.
But let’s be clear, COVID-19 precautions in schools are policies, not laws. The Ohio Department of Health issued guidelines based on scientific data leaving the decision up to school boards. ODH strongly recommends COVID-19 vaccinations for staff and eligible students, mask-wearing for those not vaccinated, good ventilation, cleaning and handwashing.
ODH obviously wants to avoid the backlash from last year when strong statewide health orders were in place. Instead ODH is putting the burden on local boards.
So why are some boards going forward with policies? To keep kids safe. Children aged 11 and younger are not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine and only about one-third of children 12-17 are fully vaccinated.
With the highly transmissible Delta variant becoming dominant in Ohio, masks are being recommended for all. Ohio researchers conducted an evaluation last year that showed masking was key to controlling the spread of COVID-19.
Yes, there are children with disabilities, developmental delays or other situations who cannot wear a mask. Their parents should seek a reasonable accommodation from their district.
As to complaints that masks harbor germs, basic hygiene comes into play. Discard disposable masks at the end of the day and wash cloth masks daily.
The COVID-19 situation is ever changing. As of early this week, Ohio had 1.19 million cases and 20,729 deaths. Cuyahoga County had 122,00 cases and 2,280 deaths and Geauga had 7,336 cases and 155 deaths. The Delta variant is pushing those numbers up.
Parents certainly have the right to speak their minds, but they should do it without threats and make sure they stick to the facts. We all need to be on the same side in battling this virus.