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Why Do We Oppose Mask Requirements at Schools?

If you are ready to fight, sign up here. If you are curious why parents came together to oppose these mask requirements, keep reading.

On March 15, 2021 the Rutherford County mask mandate ended and citizens of our county were given the freedom to choose whether masks were appropriate for them or not. Leading up to this moment, some parents with kids in Rutherford County Schools (RCS) came together to discuss if we would now have that same freedom of choice for our children while at school. Prior to that meeting, we contacted multiple school board members and asked that the issue of mask requirements be reviewed this year, so our kids could at least end their year on a positive note. We simply wanted the choice whether our kids wear masks or not while at school.

So that anyone following this issue can understand our reasoning and perspective, here are some of the concerns discussed amongst the parents:

  1. Freedom of choice: When Covid began spreading through the U.S. in 2020, everyone was rightly cautious. In the fall, the school board voted for extra precautions in order to start the year on time. Much has changed since the original school policy was put in place. Families in the highest risk scenarios were given the choice of distance learning from home, and thousands of families chose to remain at home for the school year. We are happy the highest risk students and families had a choice. We simply want the same freedom of choice for our kids.

An extremely important note: we do NOT believe any student should be prohibited from wearing a mask. Choice is the absence of compulsion or coercion. It is a voluntary decision. Those choosing to wear masks should be able to continue wearing masks. Our position does not inhibit any parent’s choice on this issue. The highest risk families can continue distance learning, and those wishing to take extra precautions at school can continue wearing masks. Nothing will change for those families; freedom of choice for all.

  1. Putting Risk Into Perspective: Every choice we make in life has some degree of risk. Sending our kids to school without a mask is no different. To put that risk into proper perspective, we have to consider that risk against other decisions in life, and that requires looking at the data for those affected by Covid.

From the CDC, here are the infection fatality rates for Covid in the U.S. by age groups:
.003% for 0-19 years
.02% for 20-49 years
.5% for 50-69 years
5.4% for 70+ years

You’ll notice that risk greatly increases with age. It’s a primary driver of Covid severity. The age factor is so significant that 87% of all deaths in Tennessee have been people over age 60, with 40% of all deaths being those over 80 years of age. Why does this matter?

When considering risk at schools, we have to look at the age groups most affected. In the U.S., people 55 and under make up the vast majority of those most affected by community schools: the workforce (75% of which is 55 and under), nearly all households with school age children, most teachers in RCS, and of course–all students.

Only when focusing on the risks to students and those most affected can we put the risk into proper perspective. To help with that, let’s consider the three one-thousandths of a percent risk of death from Covid for our kids. Most school age kids are more likely to die from a lightning strike than Covid, or in a house fire, or falling down steps or even playing a contact sport, like football, than to die from Covid.

Considering the parents and teachers with whom kids interact most, if under the age of 55 your chances of dying from Covid are the same risks you face commuting to work in your car. Put another way, most teachers are more at risk of dying while driving to school, than dying from a Covid infection acquired while teaching at school.

We all engage in tasks every day that hold a higher risk for us than Covid. We are not belittling the risks associated with Covid. We are simply putting those risks into perspective with both the groups most affected by schools and our daily decisions.

  1. Decisions at Schools: As previously discussed, our school board had an extremely difficult decision to make leading into the 2020-2021 school year. Everyone was in uncharted territory, and everyone was operating with partial information and the best motives. We applaud the RCS board for having a school a year. Many states and school districts chose to avoid opening completely and their communities are worse for this decision.

But a year later, we know more. We can make better decisions.

Those decisions should be based on an acceptance of reality. Schools can’t protect a community from itself. If every child was placed in a ventilated bubble at school, and never permitted to touch anyone or breath the same air as anyone else at school–it still would not mitigate the risks in a community operating normally outside of school.

Here are a few situations for which schools have zero control:
– Kids being together outside of school: playing in the neighborhood, sleepovers, parties, etc. These same kids who are masked during the day at school, remove their masks, drive home together and see each other after school.
– Kids participating in clubs, sports and hobbies which are completely unrelated to school: from sports teams to dance teams and everything in-between, kids from our schools are directly interacting with kids from everywhere in the community.
– Daily life with family: visiting with friends, shopping, going to a restaurant, traveling for Spring Break or any other reason. The list of activities in which families participate are endless, and in our state and county, these activities do not require masks at all.

Even within the activities the school can control, RCS permits higher risk activities with no masks. We are happy that sports, music and a variety of other activities remain in place at RCS. We do not want them ended, yet we can’t deny the inconsistent and ineffectual policy of requiring students to wear masks in one setting but not another.

And this begs the question–if masks are being worn to protect students, why wasn’t it done every year before?

Each year we face flu and pneumonia season, and the data shows that students are two times more likely to die from flu and four times more likely to die from pneumonia than from Covid. But the school board has never taken such drastic measures as requiring students to wear masks, contact tracing or social distancing during flu season. The 2019-2020 flu season was the deadliest flu season on record for kids. And just a couple years before that, the 2017-2018 flu season carried a rare strain causing more deaths than any season in a generation because it affected wider age groups than the typical older demographics.

Despite these substantially increased risks, troves of information and warnings issued by epidemiologists and health organizations–no extra measures were taken in RCS, other than dismissing school for short periods of time.

  1. Insulting Parents with a Double Standard: Topping off these illogical, inconsistent and wholly useless policies, Rutherford County Schools employs a “good for thee, but not for me” approach to masks. On March 15, 2021 this picture was taken at Rutherford County Schools central office. No one could be seen wearing masks.

The staggering hypocrisy of a policy that requires students to wear masks, but permits staff to go without is only rivaled in the myriad stories of politicians around the country traveling, eating out and excluding themselves from their own Covid policies.

The RCS staff retain the choice to not wear masks, while the parents and students are afforded no such option. This is disgraceful.

  1. Putting It All Together: From the simple request for a choice where no one is affected in a negative way, to the perspective that must be considered when analyzing risk, to the completely inconsistent and hypocritical approach that RCS currently employs–it’s time for change.

The change we are requesting requires nothing from any RCS staff or employee. It requires nothing of Rutherford County taxpayers or any individual with high risk from Covid. We are simply requesting that parents be given a choice in whether our children wear masks to school or not. We want their year to end on a high note. We want to see those smiles at graduation, and we want to proudly display Prom pictures in our homes. It’s such a simple thing. Let our kids smile.

Because we feel the school board continues to ignore these realties and our requests, we are building an army for change. If you want to join us, sign up here.

Chris Littleton (father of 3 RCS kids)
Founder, Tennessee Rising