Letter to the editor: Mandatory masks would justify Iowa Character Award

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“People are all over the board with masks both scientifically as well as strong desires for having one or the other,” said Perry Community School District Superintendent Clark Wicks Wednesday, as quoted in ThePerryNews.com of Aug. 12.

What’s your data to support this statement?

I agree with Dan Spellman’s letter to the editor: “The overwhelming and increasing scientific and medical evidence, including new CDC Guidelines released Aug. 11, 2020, have concluded that facial coverings/masks in interior spaces and public spaces should be mandatory to reduce and prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others and also to protect the wearer.”

People — that is, non-experts — may disagree. However, while the science is consistently evolving as research is ongoing, credible scientists and medical professionals are not “all over the board.”

Are these “strong desires” based on science or coming from experienced teachers who know their job and their students — if so, then sure, make this data part of your decision-making process.

But if these “strong desires” are based on gut feelings or political views — then, no, disregard them.

Yes, enforcement is a consideration, but enforcement concerns should not stop a public safety policy from being implemented.

Then there is the Perry air. As reported at ThePerryNews.com, “Wicks said the Perry schools will have the cleanest air in Iowa as a result of the needlepoint bipolar ionization technology installed in the three school buildings.”

When will that air be the cleanest air in Iowa? When the student within six feet of me shouts, laughs, sneezes or coughs into the air between us — is it 30 minutes before the system has made that air “the cleanest in Iowa”? Longer? Will the potentially viral droplets compliantly stop mid-air to be cleaned before being inhaled by another?

The school board’s vote Wednesday was to accept the plan, but it was stated in the agenda: “Each month we will look at the data and trends to decide ways the Return to Learn Plan can be improved.”

What, specifically, is the data the board will be reviewing monthly? What trends will the board be looking for? What exactly must happen for the board to modify its plan, specifically in relationship to masks?

It should be made transparent to both the staff and the community how the school board is deciding to stick with the status quo or modify the plan.

For at least the first month of the R2L Plan, the staff, students, parents and the community are left being “highly encouraged to wear face coverings” in high-traffic areas and are told that “the use of a personal face covering by students and staff is permitted and recommended when social distancing cannot be practiced,” as stated in the 2020 Return to Learn On-Site Manual.

What exactly do “highly encouraged” and “recommended” mean? The manual states, “Students will be reminded of proper face mask etiquette.”

Will coronavirus education become part of the curriculum across the grade levels as well? Will students be presented with age-appropriate content regarding masks and their effectiveness, including an interactive discussion as to why one might or might not wear one, what the impact of that decision mighty be and why views might differ on the question of masks?

How “highly” will masks be encouraged, both initially and throughout the year? Will the mask-wearing rate be tracked? What if the rate drops below a specified level? Will education efforts and reminders increase in an effort to increase mask wearing and, therefore, safety?

Or does “highly recommended” just mean a few posters in crowded hallways? Done.

What efforts will be made to continue to nurture a culture of respecting and caring for others?

Perry High School just received the Iowa Character Award from the Ray Center. That very prestigious award is granted to Iowans who convey trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and good citizenship.

Wearing a mask to prevent directly or indirectly spreading the virus to others is an act of respect for others, a demonstration of taking responsibility for one’s own behaviors, of showing both care for others and good citizenship.

Trustworthiness is demonstrated when those concerned for students’ safety can trust that others near them will step up and wear masks. This act will build trust and likely decrease the stress and anxiety of peers. Lowered stress then enables students to better focus on growth and development.

Finally, a policy requiring masks levels the playing field — it shows fairness. In our world, where a mask has inappropriately become a symbol for things having nothing to do with coronavirus mitigation, the Perry R2L Plan specifically states: “School staff will teach and reinforce the prevention of stigma associated with the use or non-use of face coverings, to support a respectful, inclusive and supportive school environment.”

Is actively implementing a policy that the board admits might stigmatize students the wisest use of limited resources?

Requiring masks would eliminate the issue of stigma, allowing efforts to be redirected toward building upon those behaviors recognized by the Iowa Character Award.

Developing students who demonstrate strong character, including concern for others, is a win for the students, their parents, the community and the future of our country.

Superintendent Wicks frequently implores that “everyone’s got to be on board.” I’d like to see us “on board” for a policy requiring face masks that would build upon and continue to advance the six pillars of character, create caring citizens of the world and — as an added but critical benefit — keep our students, staff and community safer while rebuilding our economy more quickly.

Laura Stebbins
Perry

1 COMMENT

  1. Two days ago our school board voted on this. You lost, yet you write a letter to bemoan those who did not share your views. If you do not want your kids in the school, please keep them home. No one is stopping you. But please accept that not everyone shares your beliefs, and scolding us will not change minds.

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