My fully immunized children will be wearing a face mask when they return to school later this month. With the increase in cases of the most contagious delta variant, we want to do whatever it takes to try to reduce the spread and maintain in-person learning.
Masks, when worn correctly, help protect the most vulnerable and prevent the spread of the virus. But school mask warrants also have costs for some children. It is important to recognize and discuss these concerns and determine whether the benefits continue to outweigh the risks as the year progresses.
I have seen articles labeling those who ask about masking children as selfish and stupid. It’s counterproductive in building the buy-in needed to keep public health measures in place, especially in communities with high levels of resistance. (It is equally ludicrous to claim that masks are “child abuse.”) Making sure parents feel heard is essential to gaining their cooperation.
An important population to consider is that of students with special needs. In 2019-2020, 7.3 million students aged 3 to 21 received special education services under the Disability Education Act. This represents about 14% of all students in public schools. Depending on the disability, wearing a mask may present an additional handicap.
It may be more difficult to hear teachers and peers speaking behind a mask. It is harder to discern emotions and tone, and more difficult to pick up social cues. An adult who puts on a mask when shopping is not the same as a young child who learns to speak, read and interact with others behind a mask all day, every day for an indefinite period of time. And if there are accommodations for some children, what impact will this have on the effectiveness of masking throughout the building?