So Say Parents and the School District
We’ve asked an unfathomable amount of our children since March 2020.
We closed their schools, canceled their sports, stopped them from traveling to see extended family, and isolated them from their friends. While many of those restrictions have been at least partially lifted, we continue to force our kids to mask their faces for up to eight hours per day as a condition of in-person education. It’s long past time to end that conditionality and remove the school mask mandate. When Governor Hochul lifts the indoor mask mandate for New York State, which may happen as soon as February 1, our schools should follow. Not “next fall”, not “maybe in the spring”, not “let’s see how the next few weeks look”. Immediately.
Thankfully, recent months have brought the approval of vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds, as well as data from Pfizer on Paxlovid, an antiviral pill that reduces the risk of hospitalization or death by 89% in high-risk adults with Covid. The community has also built a substantial amount of natural immunity from the highly contagious but less severe Omicron wave that is now waning. That means we now have effective vaccines for all Americans of kindergarten age and older who want one, multiple treatment options for people faced with a positive COVID diagnosis and significant naturally acquired immunity in the population.
There’s widespread agreement that Covid isn’t going away. That window has closed. Instead, it will likely be endemic in the population much like the seasonal flu. Thankfully, with vaccines and therapeutics, its severity has been meaningfully reduced for the broad population and remains extremely low-risk for school-age kids. Recent CDC data on hospitalization rates for a vaccinated 12-17-year-old is 4 per million, 90% lower than the still-low metric for vaccinated adults (44 per million). Even if we completely ignore the developmental risks inherent in masking our children in schools, there is simply no reason to enforce harsher rules for a lower risk population.
With Zero Covid an unrealistic goal, we need an off-ramp on mask mandates for kids. The vaccine approval, therapeutic advancement, widespread natural immunity, and the lifting of the state mask mandate may be our last logical opportunity. If we don’t take this off-ramp, it’s not obvious what or when the next exit is. As a parent of three boys ages 6 and under, I don’t want my kids forced to cover their faces for the rest of their childhoods. Other parents may disagree, but it’s time to make it a choice.
Our kids deserve a normal childhood, and that includes seeing the faces of their friends and teachers in school, just like we all did. We’ve rolled back restrictions on Covid policy in so many different areas, but we’ve fallen behind on this one. While our fully vaccinated kids are in masks at school for hours a day, their higher-risk parents will be able to freely go to restaurants, bars, and parties mask-less. Many of these social events have been documented on the pages of this very newspaper. It’s an anti-science double-standard, and it needs to end.
Since this can be a hot-button issue, I want to be crystal clear on the position of this letter. I am not advocating for a “no mask” policy. If parents want their child to mask in school, it should be their right to continue to have their child wear one. I’m simply insisting that parents who don’t want to mask their children be allowed that option while not forfeiting their child’s right to an in-person education.
By now it should be clear that policy inertia is powerful, especially when it comes to the rights of children who can’t yet vote. Mask mandates won’t change until we collectively speak up. I believe many parents agree that school masking should be a choice. Unfortunately, speaking out against Covid restrictions comes with the risk of social ostracism. Like-minded parents need to get over that fear. This is our kids’ childhoods we’re talking about. They only get one. It’s time to seize on recent medical developments and demand legislators remove the school mask mandate immediately.
- Jonathan Ansel
In response to Mr. Ansel’s letter, Rye City School Superintendent Dr. Eric Byrne replied:
“Thank you for reaching out and passing your letter along. Thankfully, the situation with Covid seems to be rapidly improving.
I have been advocating for NYS to clearly state the metrics necessary to give schools the choice to have optional masking. As President of the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents, I have been pushing very hard for the State DOH to provide metrics and a plan for removing masks. I will continue to do so both in my role at Rye City superintendent and in representing the 78 school districts of the Lower Hudson Valley.
Additionally, you may not be aware that last summer, the Governor made masking optional in schools for summer programs. We immediately made masks optional for our families who had children participating in summer programs.”
The mask debate continues because within a few hours of it being lifted, Governor Hochul reinstated it.