This piece was written two weeks ago but did not get published in certain national media. Since then, my county school system has shown more blunders worthy of other commentary in our local paper, therefore I am posting this opinion piece here as we move forward in battling a myriad of inequities in our schools. (More blog pieces to come)
As a parent of an 11-year-old, I have attended school board meetings for years, but nothing as chaotic as the August 18 Anne Arundel County (Maryland) Board of Education meeting I attended in-person, to give public comment in support of our Superintendent’s mask mandate.
I was not ignorant of the dissent. Mask protests were ramping up at school boards across the country, with anti-maskers shouting words like “Child Abuse!” “My Body, My Choice!” “Freedom is Essential!”. Yet I was wrong in my faith in humanity that adults would be, well, adults, once inside our Board room. Loud whispering in the audience turned into shouts as people refused to follow the rules repeated multiple times regarding being in the building. The Board went into recess during public comment and police cleared the room when those same people refused to put masks back on. For 45 minutes, security didn’t enforce its own orders that only registered speakers wearing masks could stay.
It was maddening watching unmasked people crammed in the lobby, laughing, giving no thought to others feet away who might be autoimmune compromised. Just as it was hypocritical for Board member Corine Frank to say “Those rules are different for different people by design”, when questioned why she and Board member Michelle Corkadel were unmasked.
There is no validity in anti-maskers’ biggest grievance as they cry of America’s fragmented foundation: freedom. Wearing masks does not interfere with any freedoms and is key in avoiding another lockdown restricting our activities. As a person with a speech disability, I can name dozens of oversights in government regulations that obstruct my freedom of speech: wearing a mask has never impeded my right of expression. Placing cloth over our face doesn’t stop us from worship, assembling, or airing grievances against the government. Masks do not limit our freedom of movement. And unless there is a direct correlation to a diagnosed medical condition, masks do not endanger our life.
Yet, there is little discussion about how our freedoms are endangered without appropriate mask mandates, especially in crowded indoor venues like schools. Eighty years ago Franklin Roosevelt spoke of freedom from want in his Four Freedoms speech. When stripped down, freedom from want means implementing policies so a nation’s inhabitants have a healthy peacetime life. Let me repeat that last part: a healthy peacetime life.
Places where masks are optional are seeing massive quarantines as school starts and significant upticks in pediatric ICU patients. Those who refuse masks endanger the lives of those they are around. Vaccinations lessen the effects of COVID, but don’t prevent its spread. And for those unable to vaccinate due to age or health, their freedom of movement, to assemble, to worship – to live a healthy life – is greatly restricted when unmasked individuals are allowed in the same location. 80,000+ students in Anne Arundel County will return in-person with no option to stay virtual at their home schools. This means students will lose their right to a free public education, per Maryland’s constitution, if forced to disenroll due to lax safety protocols that put them or their immediate family at risk of being infected by COVID.
But as we talk freedom, let’s go back to “My Body, My Choice”. People do have freedom within those words: freedom to get infected by choosing close contact with others or refusing wearing masks. Want to break down other rhetoric? Many state the risk of death or serious illness in kids is “virtually zero.” Well guess what, virtually zero is not “zero”. Who wants to be the one sitting with their dying child because another child didn’t wear a mask to school?
On June 18, the last day of school, Anne Arundel County had seven new cases per day. Two weeks before a new school year starts, our county reported 123 new cases per day. History and courts have confirmed governments have a constitutional duty to protect public safety (e.g., polio, smallpox, seatbelts). Thousands breathed in relief when the Maryland State Board of Education voted August 26 mandating masks in schools. Yet there are still anti-mask rallies and I still worry about leaders’ motives who believe rules are different for different people.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states we are “all members of the human family”. We must ensure all our “family” remains safe and can fully function during this pandemic. We must understand with freedom comes responsibility as our lives intertwine with everyone we cross paths with.