To the editor:
Below is an edited version of a letter the writer sent to Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D. and the Alexandria School Board.
I’m writing to request that you create a road map to help Alexandria families and schools move toward that time when universal masking is no longer required. We all look forward to that stage, even while we hold differing views on the proper timeline.
Our neighboring school district Falls Church City gave families a plan to move forward with opting out of mask requirements for their children beginning Feb. 14. While they aren’t encouraging families to take advantage of the opt-out, it seems wise and helpful to work out a plan with families and staff about what the next stage will look like.
One thing I’ve appreciated for my three elementary aged children this year is SEAL – Social Emotional Aspects of Learning – time in their classrooms each morning. It’s crucial to equip children with the knowledge and practice of naming and processing the emotions they’re experiencing during a stressful and unusual school year.
Unfortunately, I’ve sensed a shift in the climate and communication my kids are receiving from teachers and administrators over the past few weeks regarding masking, compliance and safety. One example was the messaging that children will cause school closures if they don’t mask properly; another involved the implication that students won’t be able to participate in enrichment classes if they forget to bring a certain type of mask. By implementing fear-based compliance, even unintentionally, we’re giving ourselves a much more difficult task when the time comes to walk with children back toward normalcy.
Children should not be taught to fear or scorn their classmates who are handling things differently – particularly at this stage in the pandemic with tools like vaccines, ventilation and KN95 masks. It’s psychologically damaging to treat children as dangerous vectors of disease, rather than whole people. It’s also inaccurate to imply that children will spread the virus as much as or more than the community at large.
Given that we all would love universal masking to end, it’s counterproductive to vilify parents who are concerned with the negative effects of extended mask wearing during crucial years of child development.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t isolated mask wearing in their studies of COVID-19 mitigation measures in schools, even while recommending it. It’s perfectly natural and necessary for parents to continue seeking the latest information and adjusting behavior accordingly. In fact, it’s the scientific process.
I’d love for us all to take a constructive view: what an opportunity we have! We can model for our children how to gracefully disagree on difficult topics with loved ones and fellow community members. Rather than demonizing those with whom we disagree, we can acknowledge that students, staff, administrators and parents all continue the difficult work of weighing how best to protect and promote each person’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
-Josie Ortega, Alexandria