Thursday, February 24, 2022

Mask Mandate

February 24, 2022

Our school board decided to call an emergency meeting at 3:00 yesterday afternoon to discuss the current mask mandate that is in place.  The meeting was announced on Tuesday afternoon.  Wednesday at 3:00, of course, teachers are still within their duty hours and are still at work, therefore teachers would not be in the room discussing the mandate that daily affects us within the scope of our classroom.

This is absolutely par for the course.  The meeting was called because our 'task force' of board members had been meeting regularly about whether or not we could play around with semantics and get around the state-mandated requirement that all students and teachers in school settings must be masked.  They did not ask for teacher input, nor did they actually think about the practical application of their slippery definition of the mandate--which they determined they could 'faithfully' uphold through education, rather than enforcement, since the language of the mandate says that schools have some flexibility in enforcement.  In their emergency meeting, our board voted unanimously (by the board members in attendance) that our district could uphold the mask mandate by 'educating' students/staff with the posters already plastered throughout our school buildings.  However, enforcement of masking was effectively shut down.  Even though the state mandate is still in place, which means masking is a requirement, our board decided that as of today, students who refuse to wear a mask can do so with no penalty or consequence.  As teachers, we are still required to tell them that masking is the expectation and still required, and we are to offer them masks, but if they refuse nothing happens.  This puts teachers (and site administrators) in the untenable position of asking students to follow rules, but having absolutely no recourse should they choose not to do so.  What could possibly go wrong?

The sad thing about this is that the governor is set to make an announcement on Monday, and they knew that.  The assumption was that the governor would eliminate the mask mandate, so their Wednesday meeting is nothing more than grandstanding--an attempt to appease a very loud minority group who has been begging the board to ignore the state mandate that was oppressing the 'freedoms' of their children.  Making a move a handful of days before the governor's decision allows them to claim that they are acting on behalf of those people to whom they are kowtowing, and enables them to take credit for being 'forward-thinking' and 'trailblazers' ahead of the other schools and the state.  It's a transparent move--a non-decision decision--that is a desperate attempt to mimic action without actually taking any.  The problem is that they are also still beholden to the state for funding, so their non-decision actually asks us, in the classrooms, to send the message that we must uphold the mandate, but must not in any way actually ask the kids to adhere to the requirement.  Even a brief conversation with even a handful of teachers in the classroom would have let them know how difficult this would be in implementation.  And if the messaging to students is that we have rules, but you only have to follow some of them, how could it possibly not occur to some of those students that the other rules are 'suggestions' as well?  How are we not sending the message to the parents that if you yell loudly enough, our board will eventually get tired of fighting the battle and lay the issue down at the feet of the teachers in the classroom to uphold on their own, without support?  How does it not occur to any of them that we are, in fact, sending a pretty strong message through example that we only have to follow the state rules if we like them, and if we don't, all we have to do is look for a loophole?

Because we are still required to remind students that the mandate is still in place, I decided to handle it in my way in the classroom (as did all of the teachers, since we were given no guidance, direction, or plan for implementing this).  I simply reminded my students that the mandate was still in place, and that it was still the expectation that students would wear masks.  I added that as a cancer survivor, and one who is immunocompromised, I would ask them respectfully to continue to wear the mask in my class, at least until the state mandate was lifted.  The response?  I still had four students in each of my classes simply stare at me blankly, silently drawing their line in the sand.  I don't have to, and I don't want to.  Honestly, it was disheartening.  I get that not everyone believes in the efficacy of the masks, and that no one actually likes to wear them, but here's the thing: When I asked them, as a human being, for my benefit (and for the benefit of others in the class who might be reluctant to speak up about their own fears or health issues) to wear them anyway--even for just a couple more days--the stance for breaking free of the rules superseded empathy and kindness.  These are kids who are wonderful people--kids I really like and who like me.  But at the end of the day, what we have now taught them is that their individual desire is more important than concern for anyone around them.  That they are justified in not considering others- righteous, even.  That individual choice doesn't carry with it social responsibility.   And I think those lessons are ones that will take a very long time to unlearn.  It was one of my saddest days in education.

No comments:

Post a Comment