In an astonishing move that shows egregious disregard for public health and students’ well-being, Orange County California education leaders voted 4 to 1 Monday evening to approve recommendations for reopening schools in the fall that do not include the mandatory use of masks for students or increased social distancing in classrooms. This vote took place amid a surge in coronavirus cases.
The recommendations, contained in a white paper, widely support schools reopening in the fall. The document states that remote learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic has been an “utter failure” and suggests allowing parents to send their children to another district or charter school to receive instruction if their home district does not reopen.
“Among the many compelling expert arguments for reopening our schools, a number of us were also struck by something different, something we might call advice for adults,” the paper states. “Among our greatest responsibilities as adults is our responsibility to model courage and persistence in the face of uncertainty and fear, which is what many families are feeling with the mixed messages and confusion surrounding reopening of schools in the COVID-19 era.”
Many parents are saying the “courage and persistence” are not what need to be taught to their children. Rather, belief in science and respect for fellow humans are much more important traits that need to be modeled for the younger generation, especially in these dire and deadly times.
Orange County has emerged as a hotbed of opposition to mandatory mask rules in public places, and its health director recently resigned after facing intense public criticism and a death threat. Health experts widely say masks are critical in slowing the spread of the virus, however many residents of this county are proudly anti-science.
The Orange County guidance was compiled from an 11-member panel appointed by the Board of Education last month that includes Orange County Health Care Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau, County Supervisor Don Wagner, a psychiatrist, an urban studies professor, a public policy professor, a former superintendent and physicians.
“Our constituents expect leadership from us, and so we wanted to present information to you,” Board Vice President Mari Barke said. “These are simply guidelines to be looked at and to follow according to what’s best for your family — take it for what it is and do what you’re most comfortable with.”
Board member Beckie Gomez cast the lone dissenting vote, saying the white paper failed to cite several references.
“There are some flaws in this report,” she said. “If you say something, you should be able to back it up.”
The document states that since children represent the “lowest risk cohort for COVID-19 … social distancing of children and reduced census classrooms is not necessary and therefore not recommended.”
The board’s document also states that requiring children to wear masks was not recommended given that it “is not only difficult — if not impossible to implement — but is not based on science” and “may even be very harmful.”
This extreme theory has not been endorsed by scientists, medical doctors, or healthcare professionals who overwhelmingly recommend wearing masks. They are not harmful, they state.
Ryan Schachter, a special-education specialist at Corona del Mar Middle School and Corona del Mar High School in Newport Beach, said he is divided on the Board of Education’s recommendations.
“I really don’t know what to think about all this,” said Schachter, who has been teaching for 18 years, 17 of those with the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.
“As a special educator, I know that without a doubt, our population is impacted the most by distance learning. As an educator, I want my students in the classroom, where I can directly impact their education. I can talk to them, work with them and relate with them. We just can’t do that with the same intensity and effectiveness online,” he said.
“However, as a parent, and husband to a wife with an autoimmune disorder, I am not sure that being in the classroom without proper safety measures is best for my family or the community in which we live and serve. I am really conflicted on what needs to be done. I don’t like the idea that politics is trying to govern the pandemic as well; that is frightful to me.”
Experts have said that while infection rates among children have been lower than in adults, young people can easily transmit the virus to other relatives, including their parents and grandparents, who may be at a higher risk of severe complications.