As our students and their families are acutely aware, our Board of Trustees will meet on Sunday. At the fore of everyone’s agenda is whether our mask mandate will be extended, altered, or allowed to expire.
This has been a topic of conversation and consternation for lots of folks. We have, sadly, lost students and families over it. They are missed, and I hope they will return to us. I have received messages from others that indicate they, too, might choose to leave if Sunday’s ruling doesn’t break the way they believe it should. That weighs heavily on me.
In advance of the Board’s deliberations and decision on Sunday, I want to share just a couple of things that have tumbled through my mind over the past few weeks.
First: Everyone hates masks. With the possible exception of mask manufacturers, I know of exactly nobody who is enthralled by the ubiquity of face masks. The sheer joy of having the backs of your ears in a perpetual state of chappery (chappedness? chappenstance?) is something to be experienced in small doses, just as is marinating in one’s own fetid breath all afternoon. (Listerine is my new post-lunch snack.) You hate masks. I hate masks. The students hate masks, and the teachers — who hate badgering students to keep their masks up — hate masks, too.
Second: Masks work. I’ve received emails telling me exactly which virus particles can get through a cloth mask and which can’t. I confess, the science of it all escapes me, so I wear a full coat of armor and some cling wrap to be on the safe side. Regardless, masks definitely work for us in this specific way: They allow us to keep healthy kids at school to learn. Here’s how:
The quarantine rules last year were cut and dried. If someone got COVID and you had been within 6 feet of them for 15 minutes, you were quarantined. End of story. Those rules changed late last spring. Now, if someone gets COVID, there are mechanisms to keep kids around them from automatically being quarantined. The first factor is: Were both the COVID-positive student AND the potentially exposed student wearing their masks at time of exposure? If both — and it has to be BOTH — were doing so, the potentially exposed student won’t have to quarantine, as long as he/she remains healthy. (There are also provisions for students who have been vaccinated, and for students who recently had COVID.) Since we put our mask rules in place at CRA, an estimated 100 students have been spared from having to quarantine. Why? Because kids wore masks.
No, that doesn’t mean the masks necessarily stopped any particles from flying up students’ noses. It just means that under the quarantine rules we have today, as set by the Department of Health, more healthy kids stayed at school. Whether you see masks as an efficient weapon in stopping the spread of COVID or as a complete waste of time, they’ve allowed us to have school as we all want.
I’m not going to attempt to predict what Sunday’s decision will be regarding our mask situation. I’ll send out text and email alerts shortly after the meeting concludes. I can predict with confidence that our board will run a thorough process in making this determination. The meetings in July and August featured robust but respectful debate and discussion. They view one another not as colleagues but as brothers and sisters, and this shows in the way they address one another.
May we all orient ourselves to treating one another in the same way, no matter the outcome of Sunday’s meeting.