An Open Letter to Blue State School Boards: It’s Time to Unmask Our Kids
Honorable School Board Directors and Superintendents,
Thank you for serving our students with great care. I am a parent of a 2020 graduate and a current 11th grader in Washington. My students have attended five local public schools through the years, with over 85 dedicated teachers. As a volunteer, I have supported teachers in targeted reading and math groups, mentored in one-on-one ELL reading interventions, engaged students in creative projects, and dedicated countless hours to writing grants, securing thousands of dollars for equitable student enrichment experiences. In 2016, I was incredibly honored to receive the Washington State PTSA Outstanding Advocate Award at our local elementary school.
I care deeply about the students and educators in our schools.
Recently, I’ve seen our communities become painfully divided. You’ve seen this too, and we need to heal. But healing requires all of us to expand our empathy, and to recognize that strongly opposed viewpoints are often equally rooted in compassion. In our current mask debate, neither side holds a monopoly on caring. We ought to agree that any forced intervention, such as masking, must show a clear benefit that outweighs any resulting harms. The harms of forcing children to mask are rarely acknowledged, so I hope you will take a few moments to consider, while understanding I’m sharing from a place of compassion and sincerity.
Confession of an Anti-masker
Like so many of us, I began this pandemic tentatively sanitizing every doorknob and washing the milk cartons. I abruptly ended those chores once it was confirmed covid doesn’t transmit very well on surfaces. Phew.
Then came the masks. First we were told very clearly not to wear masks, as decades of scientific consensus had agreed they do not provide meaningful protection from respiratory viruses. But not long after, our leaders collectively changed their minds and told us all to mask up. So I did.
Then came the guilt. We were told to keep wearing masks in order to protect Grandma. I complied because, well, what kind of monster would want to harm the elderly? It’s just a piece of cloth, what’s the big deal?
Then I started noticing the harms of masking, especially for children…
Masks are often loose, dirty, and damp, creating an unsafe environment for skin and respiratory infections to thrive.
Masks interfere with reading instruction, foreign language learning, speech therapy, and ELL support. Students learn by noticing a teachers’ subtle mouth movements, completely hidden by masks.
Masks block empathy cues and expressions, which can be uniquely frustrating and debilitating for autistic students.
Masks interfere with early-childhood development. Some preschool and younger elementary students spend twelve or more hours per day forced to mask, allowing for only a few hours of uncovered face time at home.
Masks lead to a tremendous amount of environmental waste.
Masks hamper human connections, recognition, and communication.
Masks prevent lip reading.
Masks interfere with supporting students with special needs.
Masks can impede breathing when worn during PE, or while running at recess, or while singing in choir.
Masks can lead to a feeling of isolation, hiding, or even a sense of lower self-worth and insecurity.
Masks make it harder to hear students who are shy or quieter by nature. These students may be more reluctant to participate in class.
Masks are not typically tolerated well by students with sensory processing challenges.
Masks are an inequitable burden on the working class (and kids in after school care) compared to the higher earning, remote-working tech class (and students with supervision at home).
Too often, I’ve encountered people who will abruptly dismiss this list, as if these concerns don’t really matter.
“But my kid doesn’t mind masks!”
It’s true that there’s a wide variety of comfort levels with mask wearing. Children are naturally inclined to tolerate conditions imposed upon them by trusted adults. This doesn’t make it ok.
“But kids are resilient!”
Yes, they are. Resilience is a response to harm. It doesn’t justify the harm, and it doesn’t erase it.
It’s time to start acknowledging that these harms are very real. In fact, many other countries have long emphasized the toll of masking small children, and have never required masking in younger ages throughout the pandemic. The United States is an outlier, especially in masking children younger than 6 years old. Even UNICEF and the World Health Organization recommend against it.
“But a million people died!”
Covid is a very serious disease. It has stolen and destroyed too many lives. But masking children will not bring those lives back, and we do not have reliable evidence to support that masking in schools would prevent future lost lives.
The CDC recently stated that protection from cloth masks is not statistically significant. When required in school settings, most kids wear cloth or loosely fitting surgical masks.
The CDC says that respirators (N95/KN95) have not been widely tested for use in children. There are no NIOSH certified respirators currently on the market for children.
NIOSH broadly tested KN95 respirators in 2020/2021, and found 60% do not meet the intended requirements. Many fell far below.
The market is flooded with counterfeit respirators. Not only could these be less effective than claimed, but they could also be made with unsafe materials, or excessively hamper airflow.
Real world data comparing geographic regions which imposed mask mandates to regions which did not, have not shown a compelling epidemiological difference.
Studies claiming mask effectiveness often rely on unrealistic laboratory settings, mannequins, or selective time periods which align with natural patterns of viral seasonality.
Decades of research have shown surgical masks are not effective at controlling a highly contagious respiratory virus with aerosolized particles.
The harms of forced masking outweigh any demonstrated benefit. Masks offer an illusion of safety, at a high cost. The good news is that masks can be effective as one-way tools of focused protection. High filtration respirators, properly fitted and well-sealed to the face can protect the adult wearer quite well. And for those at higher risk, we have many powerful tools currently available - vaccines, boosters, ventilation, treatments, and even pre-exposure mAbs for our most fragile. Those of us with immunocompromised loved ones can intentionally choose to wear a mask around them to keep them safer. I do. But we should no longer force that burden on our children.
Children have sacrificed far too much in this effort to protect adults who already have access to proven tools of self protection.
Thankfully, children are at extremely low risk of severe covid complications, including MIS-C and long covid. Their risk of death from covid is tiny, much lower than from flu. And pediatric hospitalizations are often completely unrelated to covid, merely testing positive upon admission. In fact, healthy children are at far less risk of severe outcomes than even most fully vaccinated adults. This is why most children across the country, and around the world, are living completely unmasked. Meanwhile, ours are stuck…watching, waiting…the very last to return to normal.
I cannot support the continued forced-masking of children in schools.
So, I confess. I am an anti-masker. I think these harms matter, and I hope you do too. Please join me in this effort to unmask our kids. It’s time.
Thanks, Kristen. You should write more.