The Anchorage School Board on Monday night overrode Superintendent Deena Bishop and put the masks back on the students when they return Jan. 3. The mask mandate extends to Jan. 15, for now, but the board seems willing to extend it further.
The board received much public comment, both online, on the phone, and in person, by the time it met on Monday night. Most of the teachers who testified were in favor of the mask mandate, and most of the written comments also supported the mandate. A few parents opposed it.
Before school began in September, Superintendent Bishop made the decision to implement universal masking in all school buildings in the district. After overwhelming testimony against it, the board said the decision was up to the superintendent.
Last week, Bishop wrote a note to parents removing the mandate on Jan. 3.
On Monday night, the board took back the power from Bishop. Only School Board member Dave Donley voted against the extension of the mask mandate.
Testimony from Dimond High School English teacher Soren Wuerth, who said mask wearing is an “act of love” and “mental health protection” and characterizing the unmasked as “maskless mob,” was typical of what was presented by other teachers in oral testimony:
“This impulsive decision to lift the mask mandate is insanity. We are facing staffing shortages, holiday travel, and with the omicron [variant], unprecedented rates of viral transmission. Schools across the country are shutting down as Covid surges. In this context, a context that includes a mutating, rapidly spreading virus, giving up a fundamental protection is unacceptable.
Just Friday I had a student collapse in my room with another almost too sick to walk to the nurse, both exhibiting acute Covid symptoms. Multiple students have been out sick with unreported covid.
Not only do masks provide physical protection, but are a form of mental health protection. With renegade mask wearing in a school community where students don’t fully understand the virus transmission and omicron, the stress and anxiety on an already extremely stressful environment. Why this? Why now? Someone in an online forum echoed what I perceived to be the attitude of ASD leadership and its rationale for this decision: ‘Man Up’ is the attitude. Join the maskless mob.
The idea of voluntary masking is, of course, oxymoronic. A mask only works when others are masked.
Masks are proven to be one of the only measures to prevent transmission and this is why the CDC recommends all students pre-K through 12 continue to mask.
Moreover, as usual, it will be the poorest kids and large families who will be most harmed by this…
This declaration is short-sighted, reckless and ignores basic safety precautions, but worse, it puts lives at risk, the lives of teachers who have families and of children, and for what, for what? Political ambition?
We have a dichotomy. Either this is a unilateral decision — no teachers were certainly consulted. Or it is ignorant. Or it’s malicious. Elevating someone’s political image over the safety of our children is immoral.
You can’t pretend your way out of this pandemic. Now, school board, do what’s right and figure out a way to walk this back. Thank you for your time and remember, wearing a mask is an act of love.“