Editorial: The virus masks the best education possible

Posted 8/26/21

A few weeks ago we shared our opinions about mandatory masking in schools. Based on some reactions, you might think we advocated for citizen revolt against both the government and the medical …

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Editorial: The virus masks the best education possible

Posted

A few weeks ago we shared our opinions about mandatory masking in schools. Based on some reactions, you might think we advocated for citizen revolt against both the government and the medical community.

We did not.

At the time it was written, the state government had issued recommendations, but had left final policy-making to the local school administrations and school committees. None had yet made a decision about masks; all were watching the growing concerns about Covid’s Delta variant and trying to figure out what to do.

Now, at the end of August, much has changed. State authorities, namely the governor and the department of education, have told school districts they must require masks. Most are falling in line (and are silently grateful the decision was taken out of their hands, so they don’t bear the responsibility, or the blame).

Despite all that has changed, our message a few weeks ago is still relevant. So we revisit it — hopefully with better explanation.

We do believe people should adhere to governmental regulations designed to thwart the spread of Covid. We believe Delta should be taken seriously, and we understand the fears about overwhelming the high-intensity resources (both equipment and staffing) in our hospitals.

We also believe people should get vaccinated, especially now that the FDA has granted full approval. And we believe employers should take an active role in encouraging or mandating vaccinations — if they can do so without risking their own financial health and well-being.

Yet we are increasingly concerned about the long-term impacts of this pandemic on children. We never suggested extensive mask-wearing is physically dangerous for children, but there are impacts beyond the physical.

Children will soon embark on a third consecutive school year that is radically altered by the virus. They lost half a year in the spring of 2020 (bold as it was, distance learning was a shell of the real thing). They spent the following school year in an altered format, many of them home half the time, with more compromises to a quality education than we can share here.

Now, after so much of life returned to normal this summer (witness football stadiums filled with 70,000 people and restaurants operating at capacity), the children are about to file back into schools that should be better than they were a year ago, but are still Covid-compromised.

The good news is everyone will be back in school. It’s the best place for the majority of students to learn (not surprisingly, lounging in bed in pajamas while clutching a cell phone was not the best setting). The bad news is schools still must enforce rules to thwart the spread of Covid. We hope they can find a happy medium between a truly rich educational experience and safety for all.

We hope children can sing. We hope children can make music. We hope they can perform on stage with their peers.

We hope children can meet, in person, for all of their clubs and groups. We hope they eventually have dances and socials. We hope they get as many mask breaks as teachers and principals can possibly devise. We hope innovative teachers design as many outdoor experiences as the curriculum can handle.

We hope children with social weaknesses, speech impediments and special needs are given the accommodations they were not given last year, when they were forced into all the same mask rules as every typical peer. We cringe at how muffled voices and veiled faces are impacting their social and emotional development.

We hope school leaders do everything in their power to create the richest experience possible for these children. Yes, they are resilient, but time is not so forgiving. These children have only one time in their lives for these experiences. They will never sing in a school chorus again. They will never attend a dance again. They will never perform on stage again. They will never have a richer opportunity to make so many friends again.

The core subjects of math and science are critical to education, but the soft skills make the person. Children need to sing and dance, dabble in the arts, resolve personal conflicts, navigate social anxieties, flirt with each other, laugh in a group, build and lose relationships, to be truly prepared for adulthood.

The more we hide them behind veils and restrict their activities, the more we will stunt their healthy growth and development. This is our message: act in the best interests of everyone’s safety, but remember the kids need and deserve better than this. We hope school leaders have the courage to push the boundaries of their creativity, and their policies, to give them the richest education possible.

2021 by East Bay Newspapers

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Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.