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Covid-19, the school board and civic responsibility

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I want to commend and thank the members of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Board of Education: I thank you for responding to the obvious outpouring of concern and outcry over the issue of masking in the schools, both pro and con.

And I commend you for having the strength and commitment to serve our community on the school board. It is not a light responsibility. But I believe you must, each of you, remember your civics lessons and your duties to your fellow citizens. Not only do the words of the Center for Disease Control, of the professional medical associations, of our own (our own) medical practitioners call on you to act as responsible citizens and require masking, the evidence of the last two-plus weeks makes it clear that by not doing so you are placing students, staff and the community at large at risk.

I am not reluctant to say that I am old enough that I remember when civics was taught in schools, usually in the eighth grade. The memory came back to me when the contentious arguments about masking or not masking began to roil the community and the school board meetings. To be sure that I remembered correctly what Civics taught, I went to Merriam Webster Dictionary and to Wikipedia. The latter says of the word “civics” the following:

Civics is the study of the rights and obligations of citizens in society.[1] The term derives from the Latin word civicus, meaning “relating to a citizen.” The term relates to behavior affecting other citizens ... Civic education is the study of the theoretical, political and practical aspects of citizenship, as well as its rights and duties.” I repeat, “The term relates to behavior affecting other citizens.”

Well, if nothing else this brouhaha has been a lesson in different interpretations of the word civics. In this troubled time, when people are so strongly opposed to a course of action that interferes with their perceived duties as a citizen it must fall to you to decide what is the best course of action, going forward for the good of the community and its citizens, for the students and staff who are under your care.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner writer Amanda Bohman reported on Aug. 26, one week after the opening of schools, that 47 students and staff had been diagnosed with Covid-19 in the first week of school. Dr. Jenny Lessner wrote late last week that there were four — FOUR — pediatric cases of Covid-19 at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

These are tough times — for the community, for the school district, for you as board members. None of you is a physician (I don’t think!) but as you go forward, weighing next steps, I believe that your responsibility to fulfill the trust that has been placed in you, is to follow the dictum of physicians around the world: “First Do No Harm.”

By refusing to accept the evidence that having unmasked students and staff in our schools and refusing to mandate masks, you are immediately and clearly harming those to whom you owe the highest responsibility.

Jennifer Jolis lives in Fairbanks.

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