Are school mask mandates worth it if they lead to more kids attending class in person this fall?

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

It didn’t occur to me that mask rules might influence a parent’s decision whether to send their kid back to class or not. So much has been said and written over the past year about the momentous importance of in-class instruction and comparative failure of remote learning that I thought the choice of how to educate them this year would be a no-brainer. The CDC wants them back in class, pediatricians want them back in class, politicians want them back in class. even the teachers unions want them back in class (in theory).


If your kid’s school is open, send them back. Worry about the COVID precautions that are and aren’t being taken in the building later, knowing that your child is at little risk of serious illness and that you can always hedge your own risk with a widely available free vaccine.

Send them back. Their development depends on it.

But not every parent is sending them back. Some are freaked out by Delta and don’t want to run the risk of their child bringing home the virus, never mind that infection data shows kids are more likely to be infected outside school than inside. Austin’s Independent School District is offering virtual learning again this year — irresponsibly — to families who are in that position and they ended up with more applicants than they had slots. More than 7,000 children from grades K-6 applied and just 4,000 were accepted. With Greg Abbott having banned local governments from imposing new COVID restrictions, some parents prefer to have their children “safe” at home than around others at school.

But on Monday Austin’s school superintendent announced that she would defy Abbott and order masking in schools anyway. And when she did, a funny thing happened.

Austin Independent School District officials say more families are switching to in-person learning after the superintendent and board of trustees voted to require masks for all students and staff this fall…

By Tuesday, a district spokesperson said 757 parents re-enrolled their children for in-person learning after first indicating they would be pursuing the virtual option

The district has continually stated that they want as many students to be learning in-person as possible, saying it is the most effective way for kids to grasp academic concepts.


Hundreds and hundreds of children who would have been foolishly relegated to remote learning by mom and dad will be back in class this fall because the new mask mandate put their parents’ minds at ease about the risk of infection. That’s … exceptionally silly considering that Delta spreads like lightning, cloth masks provide little protection, and small children aren’t known for being sticklers about proper mask-wearing. But the security blanket of a mask mandate means that almost 800 kids in one city alone will get a significant upgrade to their education this fall.

Should that fact matter to how we think about school mask mandates more broadly?

If masks are hurting kids in tangible or intangible ways, then no, it shouldn’t — although the balance of expert opinion is that masks are doing more good than harm by limiting the spread of COVID marginally. Even if masks aren’t hurting kids, why should anyone bow to the whims of irrational parents who’d deprive their child of in-class instruction unless they get to wear a face diaper? Why should your kid have to wear a mask simply to reassure some other kid’s parents that the classroom is “safe” when we know from the data that it’s quite safe with or without masks?


It’s a variation on the dilemma the country faced last month when the CDC urged the vaccinated to start wearing masks again, chiefly to keep from infecting the unvaccinated. Why should I, who did the right thing by getting my shots, bear any new burden to protect irresponsible people from the consequences of their own poor choices? Why should you, who’s followed the science on the low risk to children, ask your kid to bear a new burden in masking up to calm the anxieties of irresponsible parents who won’t follow the science?

And yet: 757 kids. That number represents nearly 20 percent of the families in Austin who were set to stick with remote learning this year. If we can get an extra 20 percent of children back into class this fall by mandating masks nationally, potentially millions of children, is it worth it? If we let them stick to remote learning and they continue to fall behind, what sort of social problems might we expect from that contingent as they reach adolescence and adulthood?

There’s another factor. A new Fox News poll finds that Americans are less eager to see public schools reopen post-Delta than they were in May, before the new variant began spreading:

Some jittery parents may prefer to see schools close entirely and everyone switch to remote learning than to have kids in class unmasked. That would be catastrophic. A mask mandate might give them the irrational reassurance they need to stick with in-class learning even if Delta causes an outbreak here and there. Again, no one wants to cater to people who refuse to listen to reason but vaccinated adults are already quite familiar with that sacrifice. If I can wear a mask to try to protect the unvaxxed guy next to me in the checkout, should your kid wear one to encourage their friends’ parents to send them back to class this fall? How much altruism should we show towards children whose parents want to do wrong by them by keeping them out of school?


By the way, the same Fox poll finds majority support for school mask mandates, a common result in polling lately:

More than a quarter of Republicans back the idea and independents support it by a margin of two to one. Fifty-five percent of moms are also in favor of letting schools decide, although only 40 percent of dads agree.

Here’s Biden lamenting the video from Tennessee that I posted yesterday of a pro-mandate medical expert being harassed by parents as he tried to leave a school board meeting.

Join the conversation as a VIP Member

Trending on HotAir Videos

David Strom 1:20 PM | July 18, 2024