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Ignoring health measures puts students, community at risk

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I’m writing to urge the school board to require masks be worn in school, at least until vaccines are available for kids under 12 years old. Taking a simple measure to protect the health of our community has become a ludicrous rallying point for people to fight over, but its consequences have huge potential to harm many, including children.

I am a parent of two elementary-aged students, and I think the school board’s decision is a direct threat to the health and safety of my family. Here are some facts:

• The evidence supporting the effectiveness of wearing masks to prevent the spread of Covid is undeniable. Studies include a broad variety of situations including within households, businesses, the Navy and many others. To deny the evidence and conclusions of these studies is to deny logic.

• The CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Department of Health in Alaska all recommend masking in schools. This is based on actual factual evidence with the intention of keeping kids both safe and in school. Students wore masks in the school district for the last quarter of last year and we did not have any outbreaks. It was a very successful conclusion to a rotten year.

• Schools that started the 2021-22 school year without masking have resulted in chaos. In Arkansas one school district quarantined 836 out of 4,000 students because masks were optional. How do mass quarantines create an environment for learning? They don’t.

• Pediatric hospitalizations for Covid are rising nationwide. Fairbanks is not a unique little bubble in Fairyland. What’s happening elsewhere can easily happen here too. Unfortunately we aren’t like the Lower 48 in that our very sick kids mostly get flown out to other hospitals for care. Perhaps the school board should focus on the mission of the FNSB school district which should be to educate our children. This should not be about “parent’s rights vs science” or any such hogwash.

I deal with Covid at work. It’s incredibly disheartening to witness the decline and later read the obituaries of these people who would otherwise still be voices in our community. As a community, we need to come together so that we can move on. Schools have a role to play in this, too. Masking has been mandatory at FMH since the beginning, and we have not had any large outbreaks or super-spreader events because of it. The policy is effective. It works. It keeps us safe.

The school board should remember that the district has a policy (Policy 722: Safety Program — Infectious Diseases) that states, “It is the policy of the school district to protect students and employees from infectious diseases in order to maintain a level of health that maximizes employees’ production of and students’ utilization of educational opportunities.” The school board is in direct violation of its own policy by ignoring the evidence supporting masking. How would the school board’s actions hold up in court? It seems plausible that the board can be held liable for failing to protect our children, especially given the large body of evidence supporting the effectiveness of masking. According to policy 722, the district has a responsibility to maximize the students’ utilization of educational opportunities. That will be hard to do when groups of teachers and students are sick or quarantining.

As a parent, I want my kids to be safe. If my kid was being bullied, no one would say “Its OK for your kid to be bullied because that bully’s parents said they have the right to decide if their child is a bully or not.” So why is it OK for my kid to catch Covid from a child whose parents state they have a right to decide if their child wears a mask? Especially in a court of law, I feel like parents whose children or family members become maimed due to Covid would have legal ground to stand on against the school district when their decisions violate the district’s own policy.

Please work together so we can keep the kids in school with their teachers. Everyone should be focusing on this goal, not in-fighting like a bunch of blind rats.

Patricia Miller lives in Fairbanks. 

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