School Board: Don’t be bullied by anti-maskers

Don’t be bullied.

That’s my advice to you, our School Board members, who are under attack from – and continue to be threatened by – a vocal, tough-talking group of parents who represent only a small, wrongheaded fraction of our community.

Do not back away from your in-school mask mandate, which, until vaccines are readily available to all of us, remains our children’s best defense against the spread of the still-spiking COVID-19 pandemic.

Do not needlessly put our teachers at further risk by caving to the ill-informed cries from people who selfishly complain that your mandate infringes on their “parental rights” – which, of course, it does, but only to the extent where those rights endanger the health and safety of others.

You acted boldly and responsibly under unprecedented circumstances, responding in the best interests of our students, district employees and community.

You did what needed to be done in a public-health emergency that is killing thousands of Americans every day.

Stand by your decision.

Don’t fret over that lame lawsuit filed by a handful of local moms who claim the mandate violates their right to decide whether their children should wear masks or be allowed to expose their classmates and teachers to a deadly virus.

Unless Circuit Judge Janet Croom allows herself to be swayed by the political winds of the day – and there’s no reason to believe she will – next week’s hearing is going nowhere.

A similar suit, filed in Hillsborough County by the same Tampa-based attorney handling this one, was dismissed last month. Also, challenges to school district-imposed mask mandates failed in Palm Beach County last summer and St. Lucie County last week.

As Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes stated in his Palm Beach County order upholding the mandate there: “We do not have a constitutional right to infect others.”

Likewise, you shouldn’t worry yourselves over the do-it-or-else threat made at your meeting last week, where one of the group’s leaders promised to launch a petition for a recall election to remove you from your legally elected offices if you don’t begin to phase out the mandate.

“We don’t want to do it,” said Jennifer Pippen, chairman of the Indian River County chapter of Moms For Liberty, a “parental-rights” organization co-founded by former School Board member Tiffany Justice, “but unfortunately, we may have to do it for our children.”

For our children?

The mask mandate protects our children – and everyone else on campus – which is why this ridiculous threat isn’t likely to get any more traction than the lawsuit.

It’s mind-boggling, really, that there are still people who believe they know more about pandemics than Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s foremost authority on infectious diseases, and an overwhelming majority of credible experts.

There’s plenty of scientific evidence that wearing masks, along with washing our hands and practicing social distancing, slows the coronavirus’ spread. But the anti-mask crowd, armed with alternative facts and listening to the wrong people, refuses to believe it.

More than a few of the remarks made by mask opponents at last week’s meeting had no basis in reality.

Do these people really believe masks restrict the oxygen intake of the students who wear them? Or that Cleveland Clinic recommends wearing masks because the company makes money on them? Or that Miranda Hawker, the state’s public health officer in this county, is a “liar” who “manipulates data?”

How about the mom who referred to the “rhetoric of Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry and so many more of our forefathers” as an example of the individual freedoms at stake in the group’s fight against mandatory masking?

Perhaps she was unaware that the patriots who signed our Declaration of Independence in 1776 mutually pledged to each other their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to create this nation. They risked execution as traitors and undertook for the common good much more onerous tasks than donning a simple cloth or paper mask to help slow the spread of a deadly contagion.

Then there was this doozy: Mandating that children wear masks in school during a pandemic, one mom said, is “tyranny.”

The same woman, by the way, cited as a reason mask mandates aren’t needed Florida Department of Health statistics that she said showed COVID-19 had killed only five children under the age of 14 in our state.

“Apparently, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “We’re still going to wear masks because? Can anybody give me a reason why our children are masked? Anybody?”

The pending lawsuit prevented you from responding, but there were four obvious answers:

  • We don’t want to risk any of our children becoming seriously ill, even if death is unlikely. Thousands of students have been sickened by the virus in Florida, disrupting their education and the education of others quarantined after contact with them.
  • Children can spread the virus among themselves and then to siblings, parents, grandparents and others outside of school, contributing to a severe public health crisis.
  • We still don’t know the long-term effects of the virus on internal organs, such as the heart and lungs.
  • Even if only five died, that’s too many.

And what about kids who are between 15 and 18 years old? They go to school, too.
A recurring topic was your superintendent, Dr. David Moore, saying in November that he’d produce in December a plan to phase out the mask mandate – if public-health conditions allow for such measures to be taken.

At no time during the past three months, however, has the pandemic subsided to a point where the School Board could even consider phasing out the mask requirement. Instead, it has gotten worse in terms of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

One father suggested you could begin to phase out the mandate now, as COVID-19 vaccines are being made available here to people ages 65 and over. Unfortunately, the pace of distribution is inexcusably slow, and there’s not yet enough of the vaccine to meet the local demand.

It might be months before we begin inoculating children.

Look, none of us enjoys wearing masks. We’re all looking forward to the day we’ll be done with them. Everyone, especially our kids, wants to get back to our pre-pandemic normal.

But to reduce COVID-19 infections in the schools and diminish the virus’ spread to other segments of our community, the kids must wear masks in class.

It’s not tyranny. It’s common sense – public policy put in place for the public good. It’s also the right thing to do, and you know it – no matter how many times you’re threatened with lawsuits and recall elections.

So stand up to the bullies.

Don’t back down.

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