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Fairbanks school board fails at protecting students

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It is time for the members of our school board to set aside their personal views on the wearing of masks to protect from infection with Covid-19 and focus on public health and safety. It is difficult to believe that anyone could be ignoring all of the information about the new highly contagious Delta variant of the virus, and how many younger people, including children and pregnant mothers, are now being admitted to hospitals with serious illness, but apparently some either have missed this or simply do not care.

Perhaps those advocating for “mask choice,” including a school board member who used social media to ask people from outside of Fairbanks to email the board in support of this supposed “choice,” do not understand what happens when someone gets ill with this virus. Maybe they do not understand the disruption that infection brings to a family. Could it be that they do not realize that some people must be moved out of state for treatment and how much that can cost the family? Do they not understand how death affects the family?

Perhaps they do not understand how many people are affected when one person comes home with Covid-19. Or how many difficult “choices” family members will then have to make regarding their contacts inside and outside of the home in order to keep others safe. Most of us value the safety of others and make those choices accordingly.

I have heard the arguments against masking none of which make any real sense. We all want our children back in school without the kinds of disruptions that happened last year and we can do that if we follow the CDC guidelines and require masks. If a parent really does not want their child to wear a mask then they can opt for one of the distance or home school options available to them, and allow the rest of our children to attend school safely. That is a choice they have. It is not reasonable to try to do the opposite, eliminate a mask mandate, allow children without masks to attend and expect that other children will keep their masks on because Mom said so. Anyone who thinks that will work has no understanding of children. The minute the bullying starts those masks will come off and the germs will be flying.

To those who think they are promoting conservative values by ignoring the lack of any logic behind “mask choice” I would say this. Political ideology should have no place in our school board decisions. I’m a traditional conservative and I am struggling to understand at what point conservative values morphed into disrespect for the health and safety of others especially our children. I know that mine have not. I was taught not to make choices that harmed people. Wearing a mask is a sign of respect not some kind of curtailment of “freedom.”

Because you see, the real choice we are facing here is whether or not we want to keep our community safe. Do we care enough about each other to put on a mask or are we too worried about feeling we are being controlled?

There are many rules we all adhere to in the name of public health and safety. Speed limits, seat-belt laws, gun safety protocols, proper disposal of human waste and many others. Sure, we could choose to ignore these rules, and some people do, but the large majority of us do observe them because we value what they provide. We can keep our children and their staff and teachers safer by mandating mask usage. By extension we can then keep the rest of our community safer by reducing the spread of the virus and the number of people who wind up in our wonderful hospital. I can think of no good reason why we would not choose to do this and I urge the school board to reinstate the mask mandate for the full 2021 school year and keep it in place until Covid-19 ceases to be a public health risk.

Jenny Bell-Jones is chair emeritus of the Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. This work represents her opinion and not that of the department.

Jenny Bell-Jones is chair emeritus of the Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. This work represents her opinion and not that of the department.

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