Archived Opinion

School mask decision was a mistake

School mask decision was a mistake

To the Editor:

As parents and as a teacher and health care professional, we are troubled by the Haywood School Board’s decision to remove masking, the manner in which the discussion was handled, and the unannounced removal of the online covid dashboard.

School policies for health precautions should be based on scientific data for our area. In March of 2020, the decision to shut down school was handled in a similar way to this — without regard for local case numbers but based on emotion and following political trends. The board has now made the same mistake the state made then but in the other direction. Both decisions sacrifice the well-being of students and staff (and their extended families). Right now our county’s case numbers are still high and don’t even take into account the asymptomatic and home-tested cases. Since the holiday break, there has been a surge of cases among teachers and students causing staffing problems, interruptions in learning, and difficulty with meeting testing and grading requirements. Thankfully cases are dropping, but precautions should not be eliminated until this surge ends. 

Personal freedom and parental rights are important, but the right to stay healthy in a public school as a student or teacher has become less important than the right to keep your face uncovered. We would adamantly defend another family’s right to live (outside school) without any covid precautions, but there must be some safety measures so that their child can sit and learn beside another child whose family is taking precautions. In a public school, everyone makes a sacrifice so that there can be accommodations for some students’ needs. Shouldn’t maintaining health during high covid cases be handled the same way? There is a reason healthcare offices spend thousands on masks every year. We do not want masks forever, but our good results in slowing the spread with masking in school last year show it makes sense to keep wearing them now. 

We are also disappointed by the spirit of the discussion that night. Those who spoke against masks displayed a lack of respect in their tone and in their comments. There is no enforcement of masking at board meetings and people don’t respect the school policy or the clearly posted sign, so many with a differing viewpoint didn’t feel safe to go speak that night. It wasn’t until late in the discussion that speakers were reminded it is against the rules to mention specific people. Our health officials who are just trying to do their job to protect our community were ridiculed and disrespected. The board’s decision rejects the recommendations of the very professionals who are trained to ensure the health and safety of our community. Many speakers also made unfair accusations of what life in school is like with masks. Teachers have been giving mask breaks, providing outdoor unmasked time, and working creatively to solve the learning challenges that come with masks. The way the crowd was allowed to do and say what they wanted and the way the entire board stood and removed their masks after the vote made a clear statement to those watching.

The next day that tone was heard in students’ conversations. A middle-schooler was even thrown up against the wall by classmates, bullied, and mocked for continuing to wear a mask. Should we be surprised when the rhetoric the night before was repeatedly “Be a man!”? “Being a man” traditionally means protecting others, especially those weaker or more vulnerable. Many have inserted faith into the discussion, but the Bible is clear — love your neighbor and imitate Jesus by putting others before yourself (Philippians 2, not just when it’s comfortable or convenient). 

What does the tone of that meeting and the board’s decisions to remove safety in favor of comfort and convenience say to the child who has a medical condition or that lost a loved one to covid or that has a loved one with cancer or that simply doesn’t want to get sick and miss a sports game or social activity? When we look back at World War II Americans were willing to give up their metal, their rights to butter and sugar, and even willingly give their lives because they wanted to care for others. They taught their children the lesson that sacrificing their comfort for the protection of others is honorable. 

Finally, the quiet removal of the online covid dashboard during these policy changes shows that our leaders either don’t care or don’t want accountability or liability. The school board has removed masks, stopped contact tracing, shortened quarantines for positive cases, implemented a policy of masking for 5 days after that shorter quarantine which now can hardly be enforced, and removed the only way parents and staff can know how this disease and these policies are impacting each school and as a result their families every day. All while we are still trying to come out of a surge of cases. This is a violation of the public trust. Coincidentally Haywood County government’s covid dashboard has not updated the graph of cases by age in at least a month, so we cannot depend on it for data either. 

Our hope is that the board’s decision is not detrimental to our students’ learning, our tired healthcare workers, and our families. It is a small inconvenience to bear for those we love, so our family will still be wearing masks to school. 

Dr. and Mrs. Scott Oberg 

Waynesville 

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6 comments

  • AMEN AND AGAIN I SAY AMEN. For all the health and love for others we need to our part to protect them. The loss of loved ones is so hard for so many in our county. Let's just love one another and everything else will be alright!! Blessed because of Jesus.

    posted by Marie Swanger

    Monday, 02/28/2022

  • Thank you for your educated comments. These meetings need to be run so that everyone feels safe to speak. Bullying needs to never be allowed. I hope that things will be improved. As for me, my mask will continue to be worn until our county is 5% or less.

    posted by Linda

    Sunday, 02/27/2022

  • Haywood County students that ride buses must still mask up. What’s up with that? They don’t wear a mask all day and sit less than a social distance apart, stand in line for lunch no more than a foot apart, but cannot get on the bus without a mask!

    Thank you Dr. & Mrs. Oberg for your informative letter. This is only one example of how never thought out decisions are handled by the Haywood County School Board and it’s superintendent. I do not think any of the current board members even have children in schools and are grossly out of touch with the needs of these children. One of the school board members even made the statement (when the most recent book was banned) that he “does not read.” It shows!

    posted by Dorothy Morrow

    Sunday, 02/27/2022

  • Confidential to the Obergs.

    You are still free to “mask” as you choose.

    posted by G

    Sunday, 02/27/2022

  • Thank you to Dr. & Mrs. Oberg for a calm, intelligent observation of what trainspired at the recent board meeting. It is a shame that the board is little more than a sounding board for the clanging bells in our community!

    posted by Mary Daily

    Saturday, 02/26/2022

  • Thank you so much for saying these things and knowing that not everyone supported ending the mask mandate. I was appalled by the public comments while watching the school board meeting that night. Many who spoke were disrespectful to the board and to the public health officials who do their job. Unfortunately, the school board caved under pressure and didn't even follow their own policy. Just because you bark and growl the loudest, doesn't mean you are right. The past two years have allowed me to witness how very little some people care for their fellow human beings. We aren't now, nor have we ever been, in this pandemic "together".

    posted by Mitch

    Friday, 02/25/2022

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