“Let Us Breathe”. “My Child, My Choice”. “Unmask Our Children”. These are a few phrases, among countless others, that were presented on signs by people demonstrating against mask mandates for schools. The uproar of people, particularly parents, that opposed masks in schools mostly occurred during late August and early September of 2021, just as schools started to reopen for the 2021-2022 academic year.
As the COVID-19 pandemic still ravages the world, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are calling for indoor masking on students. Many parents do not want to follow this recommendation, and school board meetings have become a site for “mask wars”. These negotiations were so extreme that multiple meetings were canceled altogether, breeding uncertainty on how everyone would stay safe at school. Most of the opposition for mask mandates stem from parents not wanting to force their children into anything and claims from parents that masks negatively affect children’s health.
In Kenosha, Wisconsin, a meeting was cut short due to parents’ refusal to socially distance themselves for their own safety. Others have flatly refused to wear a mask at these meetings, and have had to be escorted out by the police for not doing so. The school board serving the communities of the Palos Verdes Peninsula near Los Angeles walked out of their meeting on August 12th due to 100 protesters refusing to wear face coverings. The protesters were affiliated with the anti-mask group named Let Them Breathe.
The anti-mask school board protests also got support from Leigh-Allyn Baker who played “Amy Duncan” on Disney Channel’s “Good Luck Charlie”. Baker gave a speech in Williamson County, Tennessee, on how masks deprive children’s brains of oxygen and presented the board with the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and the Bible.
On the other side of the debate, parents are pleading with their peers to heed the guidance from health officials to protect their communities and schools. Parents wish a safe return to in-person learning and want to ensure that their young children stay out of harm’s way of the virus. Justin Kanew, also a Williamson County parent, stated that if his five-year-old daughter can understand the concept of wearing masks, to keep oneself and others protected, that it is disappointing more adults cannot grasp the concept.
The tensions of this intense dispute have also followed students in school. In Colorado, a school stationed police officers outside the building just after a few days of opening in response to parents protesting masks. Some activists in New York took their anger out at school children. A few protesters were found harassing young students through a fence, telling them: “Children, take your mask off. Breathe fresh oxygen”. They don’t stop there, and continue to holler at the students, “It’s not natural. It’s not normal. Children, we need to see your full faces. Take your mask off. Take it off”.
The mask debate hasn’t stopped yet, schools still face protests and challenges against wearing masks. Schools mainly just want a safe return to in-person learning after the 2020-2021 academic year, which was mainly conducted online. Their main priority is to ensure that students are safe and that they are able to learn without the many worries of the coronavirus.
Bort, Ryan. “Tucker Carlson Wants Anti-Maskers to Take Action. Now Some Are Harassing Children at School.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 7 Oct. 2021, www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/tucker-carlson-anti-maskers-harassing-children-schools-1238078/.
McMenamin, Lexi. “Anti-Mask Parents Are Protesting at School Board Meetings Nationwide.” Teen Vogue, Teen Vogue, 25 Aug. 2021, www.teenvogue.com/story/anti-mask-protests-school-boards.
Wong, Julia Carrie. “Masks off: How Us School Boards Became 'Perfect Battlegrounds' for Vicious Culture Wars.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 24 Aug. 2021, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/aug/24/mask-mandates-covid-school-boards.