Mask or No Masks in School?

Temperatures are starting to climb as we prepare for another Maine summer. Usually, our kids are just getting out of school and beginning summer vacation – the difference this year is they have already been out of school for the equivalent of a full summer vacation.

This is certainly not lost on parents who have had to figure out life at home with their kids – and what this looks like is different for everyone.

You could be a household where an adult is not working and now their focus is on schooling at home. You could be a household where both parents are working from home and trying to stay sane as you feebly attempt to manage everything. You could have typically developed children or a child/children with special needs.

Let me say not all “schooling from home situations” are the same.

I have a 6 year old and when her school closed, mine happened to as well 4 days later. My husband was (sort of) able to work from home. Both of these scenarios were not long lived. As an essential worker, he had to go back to work and I started on a path never before traveled in our lifetime: How to safely educate some of Maine’s students with the highest needs.

I am an educator and have heard many conversations from administrators in Maine and around the country about the difficulty of planning for re-entry. Will we go back to school this year? Will we have ESY – either in person or remote? Will we be back in the fall? What will this look like?

I can assure you from what I have seen, no one has the answers to these questions. They are not simple and the newest one is a new level of complicated:

Will we require students to wear masks in order for them to come back to school?

This is a heated debate right now – not just in schools but everywhere. As places start to re-open there is a stark difference in how safety is being handled. From places where you MUST wear a mask or will not be allowed in and every staff member has a mask to places where no one is wearing a mask – the debate is hot.

But when I look at the dilemma schools – including mine – are facing, I am faced with a much more complicated situation – and this is not unique to the population of students I work with.

Whether we are talking about any 6 year old in public school having to wear a mask or a child who is non-verbal, there are many things to consider. There are people who feel being told to wear a mask is against their rights – and there are others saying allowing people to not wear a mask is against their rights.

But what do you do when you bring children in to this debate? To the little voices who say, “I don’t want to wear a mask. I don’t like how it feels” and to the little voices unable to be heard. The voices that are non-verbal. The ones who cannot tell us how they are feeling and if something is uncomfortable. How do you handle these situations?

As a parent and an educator this is a question I have grappled with for a while. I have students who flat out will not wear a mask – and while we will work on that the best we can (if for no other reason than to not limit their world even more) – we cannot guarantee it will happen.

I work in a place fortunate enough to have amazing leadership and the amount of time and planning put into our reopening (which, as a year round school, just happened recently) is nothing short of astounding. Are we requiring students to wear masks? No. All staff will be and our cleaning procedures are second to none – but students will not be required to wear them. And despite my discomfort in public places where people are not wearing masks I am 100% okay with my students coming back without them. If the option for them is no mask or no school – I choose no mask.

If you are reading this blog you most likely have someone in your life with special needs. Or you care about people and kids with special needs. Either way, this is not an easy debate. And for those parents who are “starting summer vacation” 2.5 months in, the questions and decisions they must make are not easy.

Many parents do not have options for their children this summer – especially if their children have special needs. How will they continue to work and care for their child? How long can they make this work? What will happen if their child has to wear a mask to go back to school but either refuses or can’t tolerate it?

These are not easy questions and are not questions that will be going away any time soon.

If masks are required to go back to school, will your child be able to wear one? Are you comfortable with them wearing one? Are you comfortable with them not wearing one? Post your comments below.

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