By Elise Marlett, Editor in Chief
I do not envy those in power in this school district whose choices have the potential to drastically alter the lives of my friends, family and teachers.
In an email sent Friday to the parents and guardians of students in the West Bend School District, new superintendent Jennifer Wimmer stated that students will not be required to wear face masks in school buildings during the 2020-21 school year.
I understand Superintendent Wimmer’s hope to avoid controversy in her first year on the job and I commend her and the rest of the school board for all of the challenging decisions that are being made behind the scenes regarding the upcoming school year. With that being said, I find the refusal to implement the mandatory wearing of face masks detrimental to life as we know it in the West Bend Schools.
After months of research, the Centers for Disease Control has voiced its support for the use of face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, providing a glimmer of hope for normalcy in comparison to the abrupt end of our previous school year. As an incoming senior, my heart goes out to previous seniors who sacrificed the time-honored traditions of high school to a pandemic that no one saw coming. The simple act of wearing a mask can prevent the past from repeating itself, a past of missed sporting events, trips, dances and memories.
As a district that prides itself on the principles of career readiness, the West Bend School District has expressed its immense support for students entering the UW College system post-graduation to work towards their career-related goals. The UW College system has recently announced that all students will need to wear masks while on campus. The question is, why would we as a school district not follow the UW College system’s lead in the masking of students when we value them as a part of our district’s career preparation objectives?
The simple act of wearing a mask can prevent the past from repeating itself, a past of missed sporting events, trips, dances and memories.
However, the face mask is not a miracle solution for life in a pandemic. Given the concept of herd immunity (the idea that one is less likely to contract a contagious disease within a group of people if a high proportion of individuals in said group are immune to the disease), a face mask will have no significant effect unless a large portion of the student body is masked during the day. This overrides the false sense of security created by the vague description of mask policy for the upcoming year, as face masks will only be beneficial in large numbers.
Yet inevitably, with structure comes rebellion. How are we to enforce the wearing of masks to students who just will not listen? The solution is simple. We enforce the wearing of a face mask the same way we enforce the dress code, only this time we know that the mask is only a temporary change. If teachers and staff can take the time to remind students to take off their baseball caps when in the school building, I’m sure they could spare a moment to remind students to put their mask back on in order to keep their peers safe.
Many opt out of wearing a mask because of their own breathing-related health problems, fearing that wearing a face mask will restrict their access to oxygen. Fortunately, the World Health Organization has proven this fear to be false, saying that “the prolonged use of medical masks when properly worn, does not cause CO2 intoxication nor oxygen deficiency.” But the discomforts of wearing a mask do not disappear, as the hot and itchy face covering is undeniably less appealing than the normal we used to know. I understand that the situation is not ideal. However, the inconvenience of a face mask should never override the safety of those around us.
If worn correctly and in large numbers, the wearing of masks will protect the immunocompromised among us and allow for in-person learning once again. With the risks stacked so greatly against us, the safety of the district’s students and staff should be the top priority. The safest option for the next school year is to mandate the wearing of masks.
So as we attempt to go back to school, I urge you to do so with washed hands and covered mouths, for my safety and yours.
(Top image: Photo from the May 16, 2020 swearing-in event at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Sean Hurt, used with permission via Wikimedia Commons.)
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