Why Does Your Right to Unmask Usurp My Child’s Right to a Safe School?

“Daddy, I’m afraid.”

My 12-year-old daughter just had a nightmare, and I was sitting on her bed trying to calm her down.

“What’s wrong, Sweetie?”

“I’m worried about school.”

That’s something with which I can certainly relate.

Even after teaching for 18 years, I always get anxious before the first day of school, and I told her as much.

“Really?” She said.


“Yeah. But I can understand why you might be even more nervous than usual. I’ll be teaching the same thing I’ve taught for years. I’ll be in the same classroom working with the same adults. Only the students will be different. But you will be in a new building with new teachers…. And you haven’t even been in a classroom in over a year.”

“That’s just it, Daddy. What if the other kids make fun of me for wearing a mask? What if I get sick?”

Our local district is reopening in a week with a mask optional policy and no vaccine requirements.

Her question was expected, but I had been dreading it.

I knew my answers and they sounded inadequate – even to me.

I explained how she would be wearing a mask and is fully vaccinated so it will be extremely unlikely for her to get sick. And even if she does, it will be extremely unlikely she’ll get VERY sick.

“And if the other kids make fun of you, just ignore it. You are going to be safe. If they take chances, they’ll just have to suffer the consequences.”

It seemed to satisfy her, but I left her room feeling like a bad parent.

Covid-19 cases are on the rise again.

Nationwide, nearly 94,000 new child Covid cases were reported last week- a substantial increase, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA).

Even in the Pittsburgh region where we live, the number of kids hospitalized with Covid at UPMC Children’s Hospital has nearly doubled in the last week, according to KDKA. That’s 50 hospitalizations in the past month including 20 in the last week.

My daughter is scared? So is her daddy.

I went to the local school directors meeting and asked the board to follow recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Allegheny County Health Department by requiring masking and vaccinations for eligible students and staff. They refused.

Now I’m stuck in the position of keeping my little girl at home for another year by enrolling her in the district’s terrible on-line program, Edmentum, or rolling the dice with in-person schooling.

I’m told there will be more synchronous teaching this year in the remote program, but I don’t trust it.

Last year, she only made it through because my father-in-law – a former math teacher – and myself basically taught her everything the on-line program struggled to get across.

We just couldn’t do it again this year. It was a full time job – several full-time jobs – too hard on him and me both.

I hope we won’t regret it.

And then there’s my own work situation.

I teach at a neighboring district that looks like it will reopen the same way with masks and vaccines mere options.

I’m fully vaccinated but immunosuppressed. Might I be putting my own health at risk teaching under these conditions?

Last year, even with masks a requirement, students and staff at both districts came down with the virus nearly every week.

With the more infectious and deadly delta variant on the rise, might it be even worse this year – especially if we are lowering precautions?

Last year I burned my sick days waiting to be vaccinated before returning to the physical classroom. This year I could take a leave of absence, but once again my district is making no accommodations for people like me. I have to work or else try to survive on a reduced salary.

When you’re already living paycheck-to-paycheck, that’s not much of an option.

I just don’t understand it.

Don’t my daughter and I have rights?

We hear a lot about the anti-maskers and the anti-vaxxers. A lot about their rights. What about our right to safe schools?

Why is it that the right NOT to wear a mask supersedes the right to go to a school where everyone is required to wear one?

Because it isn’t – as I told my daughter – a matter of everyone having to deal with just the consequences of their own actions. My daughter and I have to deal with the consequences of everyone else’s actions, too.

Or to put it another way – if one person pees in the pool, we’re all swimming in their urine.

If someone else doesn’t wear a mask, hasn’t been vaccinated and hasn’t taken the proper precautions, they can spread the Covid-19 virus through the air and infect whole classrooms of people.

Everyone else could be wearing a mask. It just takes one person who isn’t.

Is it fair that everyone else has to pay the price for one person’s carelessness?

We talk about rights so much we seem to have lost entirely the idea of responsibilities. They go hand-in-hand.

Yes, you have the freedom to do whatever you like so long as it doesn’t hurt another person.

When your actions do hurt others, you have a responsibility to stop. And if you won’t do that, the government has a responsibility to stop you.

But in this anti-intellectual age, we’ve almost completely given up on that idea.

If people take precautions by masking up and getting vaccinated, the worst that will happen is they’ll be unduly inconvenienced. If my daughter and I are forced to exist in the same spaces with people not taking the proper precautions, we could get sick and die.

It’s not like we’re talking about two equal sides here. This is people who believe the overwhelming scientific majority vs. those who get their answers from YouTube videos and political figures. It’s doctors, researchers and immunologists vs. conspiracy theorists, internet trolls and the MyPillow guy.

I’m not even judging – believe what you like so long as it affects only you. But when it affects me, too, then we have a problem.

The lowest common denominator is allowed to run wild. They can do whatever they like and the rest of us just have to put up with it.

That’s why we’re beginning year two and a half of a global pandemic! Not enough of us got the vaccine by the end of the summer.

Now infections are rising and few policy makers have the courage to take a stand and protect those of us who took precautions from those of us who did not.

And don’t tell me our lawmakers don’t have the power. There is a mountain of precedent showing they have.

On the highway, you can’t just go wherever you want, whenever you want. There are lanes, speed limits, traffic lights.

Even vaccines! To enroll in Kindergarten, parents already have to prove their kids have been vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella and a host of other diseases. Why is Covid-19 any different?

Public safety is a PUBLIC issue not a private one.

It just makes me feel so helpless.

I can’t do anything to protect my students.

I can’t do anything to protect myself.

I can’t do anything to protect my baby girl.

And I can’t wait for the school year to start!


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10 thoughts on “Why Does Your Right to Unmask Usurp My Child’s Right to a Safe School?

      • Agreed, Steven. I’ve written a column that will appear in a number of Mn newspapers later this week, making some of the same arguments. I also describe my experiences during the polio epidemic. Virtually everyone was delighted to get vaccinated. There was plenty wrong with the 1950’s, but we the virtually universal acceptance of that vaccine was something we got right.

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  1. I hate it that so many educational institutions have become anti-science. It is absolutely unethical to for schools to choose to endanger public health. I hope you and your fam can stay safe.

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  2. I retired from teaching in 2005 and turned 76 last Sunday, but I know for a fact if I was still teaching and needed the job to survive financially, I’d return to my classroom wearing a hazmat suit if the district I worked in didn’t mandate masks and since I taught at a high school, also mandate the vaccine.

    From experience, I also know that the administration for the district where I taught for 30 years are still autocrats, tyrants, psychopaths, et al (I’m in touch with teachers I worked with that are still in the classroom and they tell me its worse than it was when I retired), so I’m sure some administrators would show up at my classroom sometimes soon after school started to order me to take off my hazmat suit because the district received complaints from parents (that have their own MAGA hats and TraitorTrump fascist armbands) with kids that came home scared because I was wearing a hazmat suit.

    Some MAGA lunatic of a father might even show up the first week and yell at me while I stared at his throat to make sure when I made my move and ripped his throat open with me teeth, I’d get the jugular.

    The administrators would probably draw straws to see who would confront me or they’d just order the high school principal to do it and he/she would order one of the VPs. They’d know I was a former Marine and combat vet and they would know I didn’t have much if any respect for them. Back when I was teaching, I had run-ins with administration several times over the years. Friends told me they wanted to get rid of me but didn’t know how to do it because they were afraid of what I might do.

    Today, even at my age, if I had a 12-year-old daughter and the public school didn’t have a mask mandate, I’d keep her home and teach her no matter how hard it was because she’s my daughter and love is stronger than fear or exhaustion. Plus, I have something else going for me. I’m a former Marine and once a Marine always a Marine. That means I still have the mindset of a Marine and I’d be willing to die to protect my family even if it meant working myself to death teaching my daughter or grandchildren at home to protect them from the Traitor Trump mindless MAGA zombie lunatics.

    Anyone that doesn’t know Traitor Trump is responsible for turning the pandemic into a political issue has to be in a coma or one of the Traitor’s zombie MAGA fanatics.

    My daughter, a Stanford grad, is almost 30 and pregnant with her second child. Her first child is three. My son-in-law, her husband, is also a Stanford Grad with a Ph.D. and if push came to shove and it was too dangerous to send their children to school, they’d have a lot of resources and help to teach them at home. My daughter’s in-laws are both college grads, one is a lawyer and the other a counselor (child shrink of some kind) that doesn’t have a full-time job. Then there’s me and her mother, Anchee Min. There’s be no shortage of volunteers to teach through Zoom or in person.

    I mean, if there are family and/or friends willing to come together and home teach our/their children, why can’t they also use something like Zoom. No one needs what the Ed Tech Industry supplies.

    Even I could stay home, plan lessons, and Zoom with my grandkids to teach them while they are staying home, too. Heck, I was a teacher for thirty years. I know how to plan a lesson and teach. if my daughter asks, I will say yes.

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