I’ve seen parents holding signs like “Make Masks Optional” on the news in faraway places, other people’s schools, and paid little attention. I’ve read about parents and community members embattled on the mask war path and, also, paid little attention. However, my first period high school students shared that there were mask protestors holding signs by the entrance to our school, clearly not yet present when I pulled in earlier or I certainly would have paid attention.
“Were they students,” I asked, as I would have been surprised given how thankful our kids have been about getting to be in person for 98% of our school year.
“No,” they replied, “just some parents.”
They looked at me waiting for a response, and I chose my words carefully. “Well, we live in America, and they have the right to protest. And we have the right to be as safe as possible within the walls of our school.” My students discussed among themselves how the protest felt like a strange issue at this point, just because the CDC said masks were optional. When they’ve worn masks all year long and been mostly remarkable, it is no longer a big deal for students.
As much as I’ve missed my students’ smiles and lower half of their faces, I have been able to fully interact with them since our return in September. There were a few weeks, here and there, surrounding vacations and our town’s tourist influx where we had to be remote for a couple of days. However, the majority of learning was done together within the walls of our building or outdoor classrooms or on milk crates in sunshine. The school year is winding down, and, while I’m eagerly looking forward to summer, I’m also immensely GRATEFUL to our school district for the all of the reasons we could be in school.
So here’s the thing, I sent my own kid to school on May 3– unknowingly– with COVID. She had no symptoms. Our bubble was very small; I’ve taken temperatures every school day all year long because it was a requirement. As teachers, we ask students to wipe their desks and seats down between every group of students. We wear our masks correctly. We made all of these choices so that we could be safe and in school. So my kid, thankfully wore her mask all day the way she was supposed to, except during lunch. So when she came home from school and complained her allergies were really bad, I initially thought, “Hmm. Ok. Let’s get some tissues at Rite Aid.”
Then the call came, one that many families in our community have received over the last school year; this was our family’s second call: Your child has been a close contact (not another Lin-Wood student, but still a child in our north country). Ugh. Ok. Let’s instead go get that rapid COVID test as her eyes are watery, nose is runny, and she has a headache, and maybe these symptoms are not allergies. Oh, and by the time we get to the testing site just 30 minutes later, she has a fever.
Fortunately, only two other students had to be contact traced because they sat near her during lunch time. I was a mess for days worrying about whether we had infected some other kid, or their family, and who knows what kind of health issues their families might be dealing with which I had no idea of. Luckily, no one else tested positive, not even her own brother, despite our wishes that he would just to reduce the number of days the poor kid had to quarantine (20 in case you wondered). Geoff and I were not required to quarantine as we were fully vaccinated, and I was even allowed to continue teaching because of our safety protocols like wearing masks and being fully vaccinated.
However, had my daughter and her classmates (only 9 years old and too young to be vaccinated yet) all been without masks, who knows how many kids might have tested positive three- four days after being in class with her despite all of their teachers’ best efforts at making sure kids stay distanced. While that might not worry some people, the consequences of a child bringing it home to a family can be catastrophic. Masks make the difference; and there are three weeks of school left. For the love of all that is good and sensible in the land, let’s finish the school year we weren’t sure would happen. Offer to join the District’s strategic planning committee. Write your child’s teacher a heartfelt note for how hard he/she/they may have worked for and with your kid this year. Think about what school could and should look like next year for your child. Our kids have worn masks for close to 180 days of school, and, although not ideal, the act of mask wearing has not ruined their childhood or education or friendship. In fact, the act of mask wearing made many things possible that might not have been otherwise, like team sports, prom, and the white water rafting senior trip just to name a few.
So thank you to everyone who helped to keep us safe all the year through. Thank you to our school nurse, Lynn Murray, our administration, our School Board, our educators, especially those in the elementary school whose jobs were hardest of all, our community parents and, mostly, to our students K-12 who wore their masks without whining because it mattered to us being present.
Heather Krill, 46, North Woodstock, NH