Summer is a magic time in Maine, with warm weather, ponds for swimming, the ocean for paddling. Though many in our touristed locale are looking forward to slowing down, the end of summer is always bittersweet. Kids tend to live in the moment, so their attention soon turns from summer to school. There is back-to-school shopping for fall and winter clothing outgrown last year. The hunt for school supplies and the joy of new notebooks and markers. (Wait, are notebooks and markers still a thing?)
In the rite of passage that is back to school, it is the kindergartners and the college freshmen for whom it is the biggest milestone. Anxious parents stand at the end of the driveway with the littles, waiting for the school bus to appear then pull away with its precious cargo. Other anxious parents stand in that same driveway to wave goodbye to their college freshmen.
The kindergarten kid will leap down from the bus at the end of the day, full of stories of teachers, classmates and new experiences. The college freshman will be home at Thanksgiving, stuffed like the turkey with tales of their launch into life. Be they five years old or eighteen, both will have navigated uncharted territory and be eager to tell the tale.
This year, along with disembarking into a world outside their families, there is COVID. Every school in Maine has had to come up with a plan as to how to reintroduce students to a shared environment. It comes at a time when we thought we were through the worst of it, but no, COVID is surging back.
Remote learning may have been the best we could do last year, but it does not seem to have been an optimum learning environment for most students. Parents and teachers alike are eager to get students back into classrooms, but without a vaccine for kids under 12, how do we make that safe?
This year that parent at the end of the driveway has a whole new worry: Who will protect their kids from getting a dangerous, even deadly, disease? What if we are not nearby to help them decide if they have a cough, a cold or COVID? What if our precious sons and daughters do get COVID?
Little kids tend to accept rules. If they’re told to wear a mask, they’ll wear a mask and continue to run, jump and screech with joyous abandon. But there is no way they are going to remember not to get in each other’s faces, hug, sing, drool, sneeze and cuddle. It’s what they do.
Enter the mask debate. More and more school districts are issuing mask mandates, regardless of what the politicians in their states are saying. Sending an unvaccinated child into a classroom with no masks is like sending Daniel into the lions’ den with no one to rescue him. Sure, most kids seem to get milder cases of COVID. But do we really want them to get it at all?
And what about teachers? Should they have the choice of whether to wear masks? Well, their students do not have the choice of whether they go to school or not, not practically speaking for most of them anyway. So, no. Masks should not be optional for teachers.
For college students, especially freshmen in their first foray away from home, the dilemma is similar, but these kids will benefit from the number of college campuses requiring students and faculty to be vaccinated, period.
Our kids can’t live in a cocoon forever, but this is above and beyond the normal risk of a fledgling flying the nest. It is one thing to have one’s heartstrings tugged, it is entirely another to send your beloved progeny off into a pandemic. This is when the arguments over masks become specious. Our kids’ lives are at risk. Put the darned mask on! Aren’t you willing to do it if there is the slightest chance it will protect our children?
It is curious that the same people who have “researched” the COVID vaccine online and found it wanting now think that a horse deworming medication could be protective and are rushing to their large-animal veterinarian to stock up. They argue the merits of an FDA-approved vaccine, but horse deworming medicine? Sign them up!
The question in the heart of every parent sending their kids off to kindergarten or college for the first time is: Did I do—enough? What parent would not want everyone in contact with their kid to take every precaution? It’s common courtesy. Come on, people. It is not your freedom that is at stake. It’s the health and lives of our kids. Is a mask too much to ask?