We Don’t Want Any: An Appeal to Northside ISD

Several days before Dan started first grade, Northside ISD sent out an email informing us they were implementing a mask mandate. I have Feelingstm on the subject, which I emailed to the board of trustees. Normally I wouldn’t post something like this, but it’s probably the piece of writing I’ve put the most effort into in months (though my AP Language teacher would probably disapprove of both style and substance), and Tom really wanted me to. So here it is. Don’t hurt me.

To whom it may concern:

I am deeply disappointed to learn that Northside ISD is implementing a facemask mandate, in direct defiance of Governor Abbott’s ban. This is unscientific political theater, and I expect better from the adults I trust with my children. 

There is little scientific basis for requiring young children to wear masks in school. Children are at very low risk for COVID-19 complications. The CDC reported that the hospitalization rate for children aged 5-17 was .8 per 100,000 the week of August 7. Economist Emily Oster equates this level of risk to that of a vaccinated grandparent.  Studies have shown that the vast majority of children who contract the virus are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. All adults around these children can and should be vaccinated or otherwise take personal responsibility for their own health, so there is no reason to place this burden on students.

On the other hand, there are many compelling reasons why masks may be detrimental to young children’s well-being. Many young kids struggle to keep their masks on and keep them clean, and even those who have been conditioned to endure their discomfort may suffer from acne, eczema flare-ups, and breathing trouble. A 2018 study on mask use in operating rooms showed significant bacterial contamination after just two hours. 5- and 6-year-old students cannot be expected to remember to change their masks every two hours throughout the school day. Children with physical or learning disabilities will be disproportionately impacted by these measures. 

Furthermore, the psychological impact of masking on child development cannot be ignored. Young children need to see facial expressions for optimal emotional development. Masks are at best distracting and often anxiety-inducing–they certainly aren’t conducive to an optimal learning environment. Some children respond to this anxiety with increased mouth-breathing, which can lead to facial deformities

Children have suffered a disproportionate amount during the pandemic, having been cut off from friends, teachers, outdoor playgrounds, and many of the activities that make childhood worthwhile–all because of a disease which poses little to no risk to them. They suffer to make the adults around them feel a little better. My kids are very fortunate–they have parents, siblings, other family members, and friends who have the time and energy to provide for their developmental needs, and yet they have struggled since the pandemic started. Many children do not have the same advantages. As public educators, it is your duty to ensure that our children have the best education possible. This is not possible if they cannot see the faces of their teachers and classmates, are distracted by anxiety and claustrophobia from covering their faces, are breathing in mold spores and E. Coli all day, or are not breathing enough at all. 

My family has dutifully followed masking requirements since the beginning of the pandemic, and those of us eligible for vaccines have received them. Our children will be vaccinated when they are able. We are not anti-vaxxers, COVID-deniers, or conspiracy theorists. But given that vaccines are widely available and extremely effective against hospitalization and death, even from the delta variant, it is unethical and irresponsible to subject students to seven hours of unsanitary mask-wearing five days a week. I applaud Governor Abbott for the rational way in which he has handled the COVID-19 pandemic and fully support his mask mandate ban. NISD should rescind their mask mandate and allow parents to make their own decisions about their children’s health and safety, while teachers should be vaccinated. 

Thank you,
Elissa Nysetvold