As the Delta variant rages on, so does the debate over students wearing masks in schools come fall.
Children across the country, especially those ineligible for the vaccine, are ending up in the intensive care unit for COVID-19. This is a concern for Tameka Arroy-Santiago, a Hopewell Junction parent of two school-aged children under the age of 12.
“I am terrified. Both of my children are asthmatic,” she said.
She has taken all the precautions since the beginning of the pandemic, as she realized the severity of the disease early on. She lost a cousin to the virus last year.
In anticipation for the forthcoming school year, Arroy-Santiago has been attune to the growing caseload in Dutchess County.
“The county has not said a thing about what they are going to enforce now. They have stated that they are not doing the remote learning as an option,” she said. “It is pretty unfortunate, because that leaves us with only a homeschooling option, if they decide last minute that there is no mask mandate.”
A spokesperson for Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro stated via email that the state education department issues guidance on how schools should proceed with masking.
New York State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa offered this guidance on Thursday.
Wappingers School District, where Arroy-Santiago’s children attend school, is also working with the county to establish guidelines, and hopes to arrive at a final decision soon.
Most school districts throughout the county are trying to stick to in-person learning for the 2021-22 school year.
To Mask or Not to Mask?
Parents Sandra Mort and Melissa Foerst are also pro-mask.
Mort’s whole household received vaccines, but has family members considered high-risk for COVID-19, regardless of vaccination.
The Poughkeepsie resident plans to have her teenaged children learn remotely.
“It has been pretty awful distance learning, but I did not see any other options,” she said via Facebook.
Foerst, whose daughter attends Overlook Primary School, fears that the school’s administration will bend to anti-masking parents.
“My fear is a few loud voices will drown out the others, and [the school administration] will set rules thinking they are honoring the majority of parents, or just to avoid conflicts,” she said via Facebook.
Foerst adds that her 7-year-old daughter is resilient and has been throughout the pandemic.
“She understands the reasons why and follows the rules to go to school, camp and to play with friends,” she said. “She has thrived in her education and made new friends. I do not see her declining in any way.”
Patricia Montross of Hyde Park has a dissenting opinion. She is unhappy with the mask mandate in Hyde Park’s schools.
“I think they should go back to schools the full five days a week with no masks, no restrictions,” she said.
She does, however, feel good about students not having to wear masks outside.
The last year in school was challenging for both of her children. Her son opted for remote learning after his school kept shutting down due to COVID-19 outbreaks. He also found masks irritating.
“The masks were bothering his ears, so he refused to wear masks,” said Montross.
Her daughter, meanwhile, struggled with remote learning, but did pass her classes last year.
Health experts continue to tout that the benefits of masking in schools outweigh the risks.
Foerst hopes her school district and others will listen to the science in implementing their 2021-22 plans.
“If they allow parent choice, children who mask will be protecting others but not necessarily themselves,” she said. “That is a devastating reality for parents trying to save their children. Especially children who have pre-existing conditions.”