Masks and the school environment
It has been proven that under the current conditions and circumstances, masks alongside physical distancing are of utmost importance to deal with this dangerous virus. It came as a surprise to Carew that here in British Columbia where I am residing, masks at the current moment have not been mandated in schools, but they have been considered optional. Carew agrees with me that masks should be indeed part and parcel of safety procedures and guidelines for all schools.
In a school setting, anything that is considered optional will often be viewed and translated as not being necessary and will most likely not be followed or acted upon. Both Carew and I are concerned that where freedom and choice are allowed and permitted on the matter, there would be a growing culture of peer pressure and discrimination against the mask-wearing children; those students who are conscious, aware of and concerned about their health and are closely following recommended safety guidelines and protocols could be facing bullying and discrimination from others.
Carew stated in the interview that since this is a respiratory disease, the simplest thing to do is to wear a mask to protect oneself from it, but by giving people a choice in the matter, there is the danger of having a “mask caste system” where some choose to follow the suggestions, while others do not. That being said, we ought to keep in mind that children often choose to disobey rules unless those regulations are strongly enforced and reinforced by the authorities, but good and effective modeling alongside a culture of hygiene that includes regular hand-washing and sanitization protocols can also go a long way.
Yet to my concern and alarm, teachers and principals at my son’s elementary school, are not wearing masks, and moreover, they are not physically distancing from their peers, something I have personally witnessed on different occasions. They would go out in groups to pick up meals and would generally continue life as if there was no threat of a pandemic around them. If the teachers, the supposed role models, are not following the rules, then how could our children possibly be safe with them.
This is an important point to consider because we are, under the current circumstances, not only entrusting staff and teachers with the education of our children; we are putting our children’s lives in their hands. I then ask myself how many of those teachers will indeed follow through with those guidelines set out by the authorities; how many of them are taking this virus seriously and also how many would be influenced and guided by dangerously ignorant, irrational and anti-scientific thoughts and ideas? If you think that this virus is overblown or exaggerated, or worse, a hoax, then you should not be in the public education system in the first place.
But the problem is also what Carew refers to as a “patchwork of non-leadership” since there is no clear national or state mandate, and each local school district is forced to deal with an exceedingly difficult situation, and they are not provided with much direction.
Since both teachers and parents have such a strong desire and want for normalcy, many are trying to pretend or bluff their way out of this virus when all their decisions should be led and guided by the advice of health officials. Normalcy, whether it is about children going back to school or about parents going back to work, would have to wait for a while longer, or at the very least, it would need to be modified by new but stringent sets of rules, conditions, and circumstances to ensure and protect everyone’s health and well-being.
The role and obligations of parents
One of the best pieces of advice that Carew gave on the topic of parents was to get involved in the process. This whole situation affects us parents first-hand and whatever we do, we must keep in mind that the safety of our children is our responsibility, and it is indeed in our hands. It cannot be merely and blindly delegated to the government, school board, or medical authorities, but it is our commitment and obligation that count in this matter and should guide and lead the process.
Although governments, medical authorities, and school boards claim that they are acting in the best interest of our children, this is simply not true. They all have their own interests in mind, and they have their own agendas. This is not meant to blame them nor should we disregard them, but we must remember that their decisions are going to affect the health and well-being of our children in the midst of a pandemic that is unprecedented and the effects of which are still largely unknown.
It is a comforting and pleasing thought that our children will not be touched or affected by this virus, but this is simply not true. The hospitalization or death rate may be much lower than the elderly or those afflicted with underlying conditions, but it still puts our children at risk. You do not wish to be the parent of the unfortunate child that got gravely ill or, God forbid, succumbed to this disease.
I understand that the authorities are trying their best, but we cannot let them decide for our children under these volatile and constantly changing circumstances. Our children are not guinea pigs and neither pawns nor experiments. They are our precious beings, and they are our lives, and we as their parents are responsible for and in charge of their health and safety.
When authorities speak of the cost of implementing adequate safety rules or the social, emotional and mental costs and potential drawbacks of keeping them away from school, we must tell ourselves that the state of their health is always more important, and we should not lose even a single life to a preventable disease.
To ensure our children’s safety and that they are not merely treated as businesses that can be opened and closed at will or as guinea pigs, we must get involved and become vocal in the process. We must stand up for our children’s rights by contacting school boards and by putting pressure on elected officials. We have a choice, a voice, and, more importantly, the power to make ourselves heard. Currently, in my province and unlike other provinces as well as states in the neighboring south, students are mandated and expected to attend school in person.
Unlike in Carew’s state of Arizona, we have not been given a choice of online/distance learning. We also have not been given a choice to apply for medical exemptions due to health and safety concerns of our children, of ourselves, or of both. The option of opting out of the public education system and instead applying for homeschooling is not fair nor warranted under these extreme conditions. I believe in and support the benefits of traditional schooling provided that our children shall find themselves in a safe learning environment, which is unfortunately not the case here and is currently not guaranteed under the circumstances.
What can we, the concerned and caring parents, do to alleviate or change that? In its simplest form, you can sign or add your name to petitions. As more and more people realize that their opinions and concerns matter, we will be able to shape the conversation and steer it in the direction that is not merely in the best interest of schools and businesses, but that of our children.
In British Columbia, we have been able to change the mask policy regarding public transit. After petitions, the authorities are going to make the wearing of masks on public transit mandatory. So yes, we can make a difference and bring about change.
Testing at schools
One of the simplest forms to ensure safety from the very start and of starting with a clean slate is the use of tests. I am not talking about assessment and evaluation of our students, which I think should be adjusted, modified or even put on hold for the time being until everything goes back to normal, or in Carew’s words, we should cut the students some slack; I am referring to diagnostic health tests to find out if a person, a staff member, teacher, or a student is currently afflicted with this disease, and hence actively contagious and a threat to others.
We hear that the costs would be high to implement testing across the board, but it is in the best interest of everyone, our children, teachers, and staff to ensure that everyone is free of the virus from the first day onwards. It does not presuppose or guarantee immunity, but it is an important and necessary first step to take alongside other rules and safety precautions, such as mask-wearing, physical distancing, and ventilation.
This virus does not follow the regular health and illness patterns that we are accustomed to when compared to other diseases. We cannot spot the novel Coronavirus easily as we have witnessed with many asymptomatic cases that remain highly contagious. It is not enough and, in fact, a misnomer to believe that if you have no symptoms, therefore you must be healthy.
It is not enough to advise that one should stay home once one feels sick. It is only testing that will guarantee that the person in question is free of Covid-19. In the interest of everyone’s safety, and most importantly, your child’s security, please consider adding your name to this petition initiated by Carew himself: protectourkidsnow.net, which can put pressure on making tests part of regulated health and safety processes.
It is in numbers that our voice will gain momentum and weight. Let the government and school authorities know what your priorities are and that you will not let them decide for you or for your children. In this situation, testing on its own will not be enough, but it will be an important part of the process, especially at its initial phase.
The other problem and complication, apart from asymptomatic cases, is that one does not seem to build long-lasting immunity from this disease. Although you may have contracted the disease, you may in fact be able to get re-infected. This makes testing, that is knowing who at any moment of time has the current virus, so paramount, and with that information in hand, the school authorities can take positive action and prevent and save others from getting infected or re-infected.
Vaccines and the way back to normality
This situation is not going to go on forever. Both Carew and I firmly believe that it is only a matter of time that there will be not only one but various approved and effective vaccines available. If you choose to keep your children at home or school them from home, or if you enforce these stringent and at times uncomfortable or inconvenient health rules, such as wearing masks and staying away from others, tell and remind yourself that it is only a temporary issue and condition.
This is not going to be the new normal for the next years or decades to come. We must have patience and be compliant with these sets of precautions until we are finally safe and free of this horrible disease. And then, everything will go back to normal, the way it used to be and we will appreciate to be back in the good old days where our children can freely play with their friends, while we get together with friends and have a drink or two whilst cheering to each other’s health.
In the meantime, before things get worse with the looming and impending second wave, it is most important to get the flu shot, so complications as well as mutations of the virus can be reduced or kept at a bare minimum. As always, safety is key and what matters most here.
The Covid Legacy
Flash forward to the future, the moment when Covid is going to be a memory of the past as you will remember and look back to the crazy days of confinement, mask-wearing and physical distancing, and you will be asking yourself, what role did I play? What were my contributions? What was my legacy in all of this?
Did you merely wait it out, kill time and wait for it to be over? Did you suffer and complain endlessly? Did you pretend it never happened and carry on with your regular life and routine? Or worse, did you protest against the wearing of masks, against the supposed and merely temporary infractions and restriction of your liberties? Did you make a big deal out of trifles while trifling with the inherent threat and danger of this virus?
Or did you stand up for what you believe in, your health, the health and welfare of your fellow beings while protecting your loved ones and shielding your children from harm? Did you withstand the unjustified scorn of the ignorant by doing the right thing? Did you accept the temporary financial sacrifices and those of leisure and movement for the common good and for the health and benefit of your family and your loved ones? Did you act and do what was in the best interest of everyone?
What will your legacy be in all of this, Carew Papritz the acclaimed author of The Legacy Letters wants to know?