Richard Swerdlow: Masking in School

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 (Richard Swerdlow)

Richard Swerdlow says re-opened school feel pretty much like back-to-normal—with one big exception.

It's September and students are heading back to school. Unlike last year, when the pandemic forced schools to shutter and students to pivot to learning online, this fall schools are open for in-person instruction. Although COVID continues to disrupt life, with 100,000 Americans diagnosed and 1,000 deaths every day, school feels surprisingly normal.

There a few indications of contagious illness—hand sanitizer, posters reminding kids to social distance—but schools feel pretty much the same as the "before times."

There is one obvious difference, though. Students are wearing face masks.

For such a small piece of fabric, masks in schools have been a huge controversy—whether students should be required to wear masks has provoked shouting matches and protests at school board meetings from coast-to-coast. With some states mandating masks in schools and other states banning masks, the debate has moved from classrooms to courtrooms, both proponents and opponents filing lawsuits in 14 states.

As a teacher, I wear a mask all day, too, following the CDC recommendation of indoor masking by students and staff. And I'm trying to understand parent's concerns about kids wearing masks: "not comfortable, doesn't like it."

This is about more than comfort—with COVID surges among school-age kids, it’s a public health emergency. Masks reduce the amount of respiratory droplets spread by students, protecting your child and other students from getting sick.

Masks are temporary and non-invasive. Nobody loves wearing one. But if masking is what it takes to keep our kids safe and our schools open, than I'm willing to be uncomfortable. Seat belts are uncomfortable too, but they save lives.

And I've noticed something interesting.

My students don't mind. The kids are calmly putting on masks and getting on with their school work. Unlike the adults raging on TV news, my students are taking it in stride with a mature and uncomplaining attitude about wearing masks. They get it.

The kids are all right. It's the grown-ups who are having mask meltdowns.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.