Education

The Coming Mask War in American Schools

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Photo Courtesy of CBS Austin


Published 07/08/2020 | Reading Time 5 min 9 sec

By Nehemiah D. Frank, founder and editor in chief 

On the surface, Americans often shun the practice of taking politics into schools. In some cases, teachers allowing political conversations in their classrooms are disciplined; bringing it up or not shutting it down fast enough could cost educators their jobs. After all, national and ideological discussions can quickly get heated — especially when the nation is so polarized as it is today.  

The U.S. President, Donald J. Trump, hasn’t felt compelled to endorse CDC guidelines. The nation’s top virologists have repeatedly advised that mask-wearing is an excellent preventative measure in mitigating the spread of Covid-19. The evidence indicates wearing a mask slows the proliferation of infection and therefore saves lives. Nevertheless, Trump refuses to promote the idea that wearing masks in public is a common good. 

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Since his Tulsa indoor Campaign Rally, the President held three more events, one indoor and two outdoor. At all of them, the President nor the majority of his audience opted to wear masks.

The virus is raging in the deep south and majority-held Republican states throughout the country. It is in these states that we see the most polarizing behavior when it comes to mask-wearing, a type of ideological tribalism. 

Brawls have broken-out in businesses with mask policies. Even as Covid-19 cases spike and ICU beds become scarce in regions with high cases, politicos far away in ivory towers and behind iron gates often have a way of penetrating every sector of society down to the city block and even classrooms.

Recently on Twitter in all caps, the President encouraged that our nation’s schools be open this fall, even during a global pandemic: “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!” be tweeted. 

Trump isn’t the least concerned about young people carrying the virus back to family members who may be immune-compromised or live in multigenerational households with elderly family members. To magnify his support of this, the President retweeted a packed to the brim auditorium of a Students For Trump gathering on June 23rd.  

The National Parents Union, a network of highly effective parent organizations and grassroots activists, surveyed 500 families of public-school students in grades K through 12. Their polls show a growing consensus among parents not to reopen until health risks are eliminated: from 67% during the first week of May to 71% by the second. 46% of parents said they’re uncomfortable sending their kids back to school until no new cases were reported. 43% said they’re nervous about sending their kids to school without a vaccine. And yes, the consensus is affected by political party affiliation. 

Moreover, according to the parent poll, if some school districts decide to open, parents place the highest importance on schools requiring students and staff who contract the virus to stay home for 14 days and that schools should send notices to families of possible exposure. These two results present a challenge for reopening America’s schools.

Screen Shot 2020-07-08 at 9.57.26 AM.pngFirst, school administrators and support staff will have little to no control over whether a student is infected because most young people are asymptomatic, meaning they won’t show signs of having the disease. Second, with the increasing number of Americans becoming infected with the virus, parents and guardians will be receiving emails every other day, if not every day, when students receive positive Covid-19 results. 

Covid-19 cases continue to rise. John Hopkins University tallies 131,486 covid related deaths and 2,996,670 known-cases with that number increasing daily. 

Some schools vow to take proper precautions, developing and presenting Covid-19 plans that promise safety for American students: smaller class sizes, constant sanitation and temperature checking. But how do we control young people who adopt political behaviors like the thousands of students in attendance at the Students for Trump rally? What if they refuse to wear a mask at school? What then? 

In such a polarized society, it seems merely impossible to enforce mask-wearing in some regions in the country.

It’s clear the majority of American parents don’t feel safe sending their kids to school amid this global viral outbreak that’s seemingly hit the U.S. the hardest with 131,486 dead and counting — more than any other nation in the world.

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Nehemiah FrankNehemiah D. Frank is the founder, executive editor, and director of The Black Wall Street Times, digital news media company that believes access is the new civil right. He’s also a freelance writer, appearing in TIME Magazine, Tulsa People, and Tulsa World. Frank graduated with a general studies degree from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and a political science degree from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and was a member and chapter president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society. Today, he is a blogger for Education Post, based in Chicago, IL, and a board member for the Tulsa World, Tulsa Press Club, and Tulsa’s Table. He is also a public school educator at a local community-led charter school and is a member of Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s Education Task Force for Equity and Inclusion. In 2017, Frank became a Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, a 2018 Black Educators Fellow and gave a TED Talk at the University of Tulsa.

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