Schools, Masks and Politics  – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

Editor-in-Chief Deborah J. Levine

Our kids are in the COVID crosshairs. In July, 38,654 pediatric Covid cases were reported. Just a week later, that number increased 85 %. When today’s youth look back on this Covid era, I wonder what they’ll say. They might say that the delta variant might have been deterred if vaccinations had been embraced immediately. They may ask why it took so long to authorize a Covid vaccine for children.

With schools starting and the delta variant spreading, the political debates have gone viral.  Our kids hear one pediatrician’s warning, “This is not your grandfather’s Covid”. Then they hear politicians waging war against the recommendations for universal masking in schools by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Tennessee’s political debate grows fiercer by the day, especially with recent news of the negative impact of remote learning. TN House Speaker Cameron Sexton threatened legislative action if schools mandated masks or closed. State Representative Robin Smith agreed, labeling mandates as fear mongering.

So now we’re approaching an era of ‘legislative action’, a nice term for war between the state and local leadership. Check out Florida, the battle’s poster child.  Given the states surge in cases, school boards are requesting the flexibility and autonomy to make the decisions for their schools that best fit local data. But Governor DeSantis considers masks as “harassment.” Should a school board vote for mask mandates, he proposes removing state funding unless exemptions are allowed. Motivated by reports of 17,000 new cases per day, several school districts are defying the governor by issuing mask mandates. DeSantis, in a counter move, issued an executive order to Florida’s Board of Education to pass a rule allowing parents to skirt mask mandates by school districts.

How can our students not be confused by what’s happening?  And maybe they’re a bit embarrassed by the childish behavior of adults. A North Carolina school board meeting passed a mask mandate for all unvaccinated staff and students inside the school building. But the meeting turned ugly when unruly parents and protestors showed up, especially GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn. In a nonsensical game of name-calling, he claimed board members were even more corrupt than Speaker Pelosi, calling her ruling about masks “totalitarian, hypocritical, and arbitrary.” How does that help save any lives?

So-called “Parental Rights” is the new buzz word and was used in a Louisiana school board meeting where parents demanded an explanation for a mask mandate. The superintendent explained that school-aged children had tested at a 4% positivity rate for Covid, but are now testing at a 28% positivity rate for the delta variant. I suspect that students can do the math.

Anxiety about possible school closings are growing. Chattanooga Mayor Kelly has already closed down recreational centers in order to protect our children. So why would parents object to masks if they might prevent closures?

Many businesses understand the closure issue. They’re encouraging customers to wear masks, but they’re mandating masks for their workers. Amazon is requiring its 900,000 warehouse workers to wear masks indoors. Target, Starbucks, McDonald’s and Home Depot are requiring workers to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status or the transmission risks of the area.

“Parental Rights” could cost lives, close schools, and endanger the economy. The upcoming generation deserves better. Seven-in-ten of these Gen Zers say government should do more to solve problems.  They’ll be eligible to vote soon and I bet they won’t vote for the folks who endanger their lives. So let’s mask ourselves up and mask our schools. Then, let’s help them mobilize and get out those votes.


Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.