Early in 2020 — before the world ground to a halt — we watched the movie Togo, based on the true story of an Alaskan dogsled team who braved brutal conditions to bring medicine to dying children during an epidemic.
My kids loved the movie. The excitement of dogs racing over cracking ice. The cinematic landscape. And, above all, the messages: Help others. Do the right thing, even when it’s hard. It’s okay to face adversity — and make sacrifices — when community stakes are high.
We talked about this movie a lot during early pandemic days. When my kids came home with fevers, they understood why they had to stay out of school for a few weeks.
They never returned. The world, and their worlds, shut down.
In spite of this, my children kept their spirits high. They talked about flattening curves. They adapted, making backyard mini-golf courses and scavenger hunts. And they learned online, the best they could, with remote schooling.
Our children have been selfless, shining examples of how to do things right. Why, then, is it so hard for the grown-ups in their lives to do the same? Clearly, there are partisan divides, and individuals who refuse to protect themselves or others. But the truth is, leadership has been lacking from all grown-ups, across the political spectrum, and across all levels of government.
I first emailed our local school district, Denver Public Schools, about masks in early July, as we watched delta-variant numbers climb. Do the right thing, I begged them. Protect our children.
My pleas were met with silence. I tweeted at them. I emailed again, two weeks later. I pointed to the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics. I drafted a form letter for friends, who sent the same plea.
Finally, late one night as my children were falling asleep, I received a response from our district, a few short weeks before school was scheduled to start: “We are looking at the data, meeting with the physicians… We are being extremely thoughtful and looking at this decision and how it will impact all of our students.”
During an interview the following day, new DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero expressed the need to have discussions with community members, and “deep deliberation.”
I’m grateful that DPS ultimately made the right choice to require masks, and that they made many good choices last year. I appreciate that I eventually received a direct and thoughtful response. And of course, as a parent, I value the sentiment that leaders listen to the communities they serve.
But at this point — during a pandemic that has killed more than 4 million people worldwide — the time for indecision is over.
Parents waited patiently, time and time again, over the last year and a half, understanding that some decisions were hard for everyone — and certainly for policy makers.
But it’s not always hard. The decision to keep students in masks for a bit longer is a softball decision. It should take very little time for any school board, at this point, to decide to keep our children as safe as possible until they are able to receive vaccines. The data are here. Delta is surging. The CDC now formally recommends masks.
A metropolitan school board shouldn’t need another week — or another day — to collaborate with outside groups, as delta rages on. They shouldn’t need another minute, or another piece of data, or another opinion from another stakeholder, to keep our children safe.
While they should be transparent and responsive to community members, they shouldn’t balk in fear. They should make clear decisions that put children — not parents — first.
Yes, there might be protesters. But they aren’t groups of epidemiologists or public health professionals. They aren’t researchers who see that delta is much more transmissible, or that it is still unknown whether the variant will have severe impacts on kids.
Our children inherently understand the need to protect others. It’s engraved into the fabric of their beings. Even the smallest ones know how to provide aid to others. If you ask ANY child if they are willing to wear a mask to keep their friends safe, I promise you every single one would say yes.
Grown-ups could learn from the selflessness and resilience of children. My own tween, who bravely received his vaccine on the first day it was available to him, wants everyone to continue to wear masks to protect his brother.
The children have done their part, and will keep doing so. It’s time for our school boards, our cities, our states, and our leaders to protect them, without worrying about politics.
All districts in Colorado that meet public health criteria for mask requirements should commit to doing so. We shouldn’t have to point out how easy masks are: simple slips of cloth that kids are perfectly capable of wearing, and can continue to do so, until vaccines are approved for their age. If we mandate masks, and it turns out it was unnecessary, we lose nothing. If we don’t, we lose lives.
This isn’t a tough decision. It’s the only decision.
Rebecca Swanson is a parent and freelance writer living in Denver.
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