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When, Not If

So here we go: let’s get kids back into schools.

Of course the “when” they are due back inside brick and mortar buildings varies from district to district, state to state.

No matter what you hear, each district’s superintendent has the legal obligation to act in the best interest of students and staff to keep them safe. A superintendent can be fired - even charged criminally - if they act in a way that can be shown to endanger children and staff.

But politicians? They can say all manner of things and, if their orders lead to disaster, they are off the hook. When was the last time you heard of a president of governor being criminally charged because of their stupid decision?

If you listen to the current president of the U.S. and his acolytes, like the governor from Florida, they appear to have a legal right to mandate that districts get kids back in schools, five days a week, no matter what science has to say about the coronavirus.

The truth: they don’t have any legal right to mandate this.

So what is it when politicians mandate things they have no legal grounds to mandate? Why, political posturing, of course. Curiously, these are the same politicians who point fingers at their detractors for “politicizing” the COVID-19 pandemic. But I digress...

Stressed-out adult caregivers have tried valiantly to keep their kids entertained, educated, and out of trouble since the pandemic exploded. It has been a big ask since these adults traditionally struggle to do these same things over the summer, even without wearing masks or washing hands for two minutes.

So even though there is considerable difference of opinion on “when” we should bring children back into traditional schools and under what conditions, everyone agrees that prolonged delay in doing so is detrimental to children. It is not a question of “if” children should return to their schools, but a question of “when”.

The time will come when kids go back into schools in some way/form/fashion - months before 100% of school personnel and students can be certified to have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Remember, a vaccine is still months away from mass production. As I publish this, millions of kids are returning to schools with no available vaccine - just an intense desire to get our students back to a normal routine that school provides.

In the meantime, to attempt to make schools safer, many school districts in the U.S. will tell their students that they have to wear a mask.

What will happen when they don’t? Or when they refuse to do so? Or when they lose their mask during the school day? This is only a smidgeon of a long list of whens.

The scenario of students-without-masks in a mask-required environment is just not a question of “if”. It is a matter of “when” it happens. Doesn’t it make sense to prepare schools and families for something that will, without a shred of doubt, happen?

As a principal at elementary, middle, and high school levels, I have a good bit of experience on these “when” scenarios. Let me give you three scenarios, one for each level, which I guarantee will happen within one week of children returning to brick and mortar schools before 100% of the school staff and kids are vaccinated for COVID-19.

Grades K-5 When No-Mask Scenario

A fourth grader is annoyed by a pesky second grader. The older kid pulls off the younger kid’s mask and throws it to the ground. This fourth grader discovers the power of unmasking an annoying classmate. The student weaponizes the required mask mandate.

Grades 6-8 No-Mask Scenario

A middle school kid refuses to wear a mask since their parent(s) think the coronavirus is a far left hoax. Even though the kid is given several masks, they are continually found below his mouth or lost. The student weaponizes the required mask mandate.

Grades 9-12 No-Mask Scenario

An underclassman is known to be very careful at school; they are seen using hand cleaner often, attempting to maintain social distance, and so forth. A couple of cowardly upperclassmen (some might call them “bullies”, I call them what they are) walk near the Careful Kid - and one pushes the other into the Careful Kid who then uses proximity to remove the Careful Kid’s mask (or spit on it, pick his. Nose and smear it on the mask, etc.). The student weaponizes the required mask mandate.

I could come up with hundreds of scenarios - and be totally accurate when I say that they will happen. Kids are kids. Many students see mandates as a challenge that must be met, a rule that must be broken. Ask any teacher or school administrator; they will all agree with me.

So here is the BIG question: what powers are being given to teachers and school administrators to deal with these inevitable and predictable behaviors?

  • Will principals be supported by superintendents when they remove such students from their schools?

  • Will schools be given a limitless supply of masks?

  • What can administrators do with teachers who don’t wear masks properly - or at all?

  • Are parents prepared to hold their kid at home who refuses to follow the mask mandate?

School administrators are already dealing with teachers who believe that returning to school pre-vaccine amounts to a dangerous assignment requiring “battle pay”. They better get some support when they have to discipline someone for the safety of the school community.

Parents, the adults so desperate to send their own children out of the house and back to a building filled with people whose exposure to COVID-19 is uncertain and unknown - are the same adults who would never, ever step in a classroom and teach, let alone do that with COVID-19 on the loose.

I am NOT saying the decision of when to send children and school personnel back into a school together is an easy one. It just has to be done in some sensible way based on available science. Yes, easier said than done.

I AM saying that when we return to school pre-vaccine we should be demanding people wear masks, we must give school personnel special powers to exclude non-compliant students from school when it occurs. Come on, superintendents, step up: prepare for the inevitable.

Lastly, I invite you to do something our current president doesn’t: read the U.S. Constitution. You will discover that, in times of crisis, the good of the people legally outweighs the good of the individual.

Your mischievous kid doesn’t have the right to endanger others.

©️Copyright by David Samore. Excerpts in part or whole may not be used without the expressed permission of David Samore.

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