Mask decision right by whom?

Published 1:19 pm Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Editor, The Smithfield Times:

After reading about Isle of Wight’s decision to drop the mask mandate in its schools (“Masks optional in IW schools,” Feb. 16), I started to wonder what it meant for the future of students and teachers.

My immediate concern was bullying. For students who choose not to wear a mask, there is a potential for teasing others who do wear one. And vice versa. Students get in arguments that detract from the purpose of going to school: getting an education.

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Another potential is physical altercations. Even as a joke, students may try to pull a mask off of another person or harass them. Beratement and fighting can happen in any age group. We have already seen adults attack each other over this issue, so what is stopping students?

Teachers. A major argument against masking in classrooms has been the deputization of teachers. On top of instruction and class conduction, teachers have been asked to police student masking. Proponents of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order say that dropping mandates is a “saving grace” for teachers.

Is it a saving grace for teachers who are immunocompromised? How about for teachers who go home to high-risk family members?

Isle of Wight County School Board Vice Chairman Michael Cunningham had indicated that “the (COVID-19) numbers are coming down … so we just want to do what’s right.”

Right by whom? Students? Teachers? Parents who haven’t seen the inside of a classroom in 20 years? Politicians who refuse to give students and teachers the resources they need?

And what is right? What is the moral implication of removing live-saving protection equipment? Denying the deadly impact of a virus that has killed millions globally does nothing to help model smart decision-making for young students.

From Feb. 10 to Feb. 17, there were 54 new cases of COVID-19 in Isle of Wight. In a county that is only 51% fully vaccinated, there were nearly 10 deaths in seven days. The CDC marked Isle of Wight as a high transmission zone with strong recommendations for masking in public spaces.

Isle of Wight, school board and citizens alike, take a moment and ask yourselves if you want to be responsible for a case spike in the deadliest virus the U.S. has ever seen. You have the ability to keep others safe. Wear a mask.


Kayla Engel

Newport News