During the summer months, the rhetoric surrounding the Coronavirus seemed to center around the notion that the United States had made it to a point where the disease’s hold on the country was loosening. Infection rates were decreasing, with July seeing the lowest weekly average of cases since the start of the pandemic.
This period brought about hope, with states easing mask and social distancing mandates, as well as businesses, music festivals, and vacation destinations returning to levels of operations not seen since February of 2020.
This “return to normalcy” is often attributed to the increased vaccination rates, as the shots became accessible to more age groups throughout the spring. Despite the hope that the pandemic was a thing of the past, the emergence of the highly infectious Delta Variant brought a rise in cases and hospitalizations.
The glimmer of hope was soon dashed by the spike in cases near the end of the summer, with August bringing 4.2 million cases, a number that ranks as the fourth highest of any month since the beginning of the pandemic, according to U.S. News and World Report.
One question at the forefront of COVID-related issues is how to safely return to the classroom after a year of online learning. To combat the potential risks, many school districts across the nation are requiring that students wear masks.
According to an article published by Today.com, 14 states and Washington D.C. have issued universal mask mandates in schools, as well as 175 individual schools and districts. Additionally, New Mexico and Rhode Island have issued mask requirements for unvaccinated students.
One of the local districts requiring masks is Delaware City Schools. The reasoning for this decision, as described by Delaware City School Board President Frances O’Flaherty, is to pursue the goal of having as many students back in the classroom as possible.
She says of the mask mandate, “When it came down to it, this is the best way to make sure the most students are able to be in school.”
O’Flaherty explained that social distancing, vaccines, and masks are three proven ways to return kids to school in a safe manner. A mask mandate was the most feasible, as social distancing is difficult in classrooms, and most vaccines have yet to be approved for children under 12, who comprise a large amount of the K-12 population.
Masks requirements have proven to be controversial, with parents across the country staging protests at school board meetings and the offices of school officials. Delaware City Schools is no exception to the controversy.
O’Flaherty says there have been instances of parents that have come to recent board meetings to speak in support of and against the mask mandate. Community members that oppose the mask mandate feel as though it is an unnecessary precaution, and often oppose masks as a way to protect from COVID-19 as a whole.
One parent who spoke at the September 13 Delaware School Board meeting against the mask mandate believes that the Board is acting out of fear of the virus created by the government. “You’re buying into this terror that the government is putting on all of us, and I find it insane,” the parent said.
Other public participants argued that this fear is being placed on children through mask mandates, making them afraid to take off their masks at all. In addition to the parents speaking to the Board, audience members would often yell and cheer in response to their speeches, with one attendee stating “it’s about control,” and another exclaiming “they’re not dogs!” when a parent compared a mask to a muzzle.
While those in opposition to mask mandates may be making themselves known, O’Flaherty emphasizes that they do not represent most of the parents in the district, “I think we are representing the majority of our community,” she says.
O’Flaherty feels thankful for those that have reached out to express their support, saying, “We are grateful that we have such a well-educated and supportive community who support education for their children, and their health and safety. It’s a good place to be.”
The mask mandate for Delaware City Schools will remain in effect until the Board is“confident that it is acceptable and healthy for everyone to go without,” according to O’Flaherty.