Schools are refusing mask mandates even as COVID cases spike

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A top pediatrician calls the number of virus cases in children 'staggering and tragic.'

The superintendent of a school district north of Fort Worth, Texas, has declared masks optional in his district, despite a statewide mask mandate and soaring numbers of new COVID cases.

The Texas Tribune reported last week that Lance Johnson, the superintendent of Peaster Independent School District in Parker County, Texas, has balked at reporting COVID cases and openly refused to require his staff and students to wear masks, in defiance of a statewide order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in July.

Although several parents filed complaints with the Texas Education Agency, which is responsible for public schools in the state, the agency issued a statement saying it had no plans to take formal action, noting: "School districts and local health officials are in the best position to make decisions specific to their respective communities. Other issues raised in the complaint should be handled by the local board of trustees, should the local board deem action necessary."

The agency's public health guidelines say that school districts must enforce state masking orders. However, Johnson has expressed his disdain for them, writing in an email in September: "We know that love will always win the battle over fear, common sense and personal responsibility have a much greater effect than any plethora of mechanisms the school district could deploy to increase the safety of our students, and prayer is a common thread that binds a community together and ties us to blessings that can only come from God."

Abbott held a press conference last week in which he noted that he had not "seen a lot of quote, 'enforcement'" of COVID safety measures by local officials.

But Texas schools aren't the only ones flouting state masking orders.

The board of Tioga Public Schools in North Dakota voted last week to get rid of the mask requirement in the district's schools.

Its superintendent, Carolyn Eide, told reporters that 60% of the district's teachers and local residents surveyed said they opposed school mask mandates and that many staff and students did not wear masks.

But according to a report published last week by Inforum, the state superintendent then cautioned the district that it could lose its funding from the state and board members could be held responsible for any cases. The school board voted to overturn its earlier vote.

Meanwhile, in Florida, several dozen parents of public school students in Seminole County recently gathered outside the school board building to protest district masking orders.

The maskless protesters carried signs demanding the district reverse its order.

"Our kids are not super spreaders as they want us to believe," one parent said.

And in Woodward County Public Schools in Oklahoma, which serve about 2,500 students, many parents have refused to mask their children.

In what the district claims was an attempt to exact masking compliance from parents, Woodward County responded by removing quarantine requirements for students exposed to coronavirus — but only if both parties were masked at the time of exposure.

The district says it hopes the move will incentivize parents to mask their children, many of whom told the district they would mask their children if there were no quarantine requirement after exposure. But Oklahoma mask guidance is clear and enforceable — masks are mandated in all public spaces — and the district's new rules fly in the face of federal guidelines, which recommend a 14-day quarantine after exposure.

Many private schools across the country are also defying masking orders and safety guidelines, and without a governing body to intervene, it's more challenging for authorities to stop them.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unequivocally recommends wearing masks in schools.

Meanwhile, cases of the coronavirus continue to spike among children nationwide. According to a recent NBC report, more than 1 million children nationwide have contracted the virus, with numbers reaching all-new highs in recent weeks.

While the number of pediatric COVID deaths remains lower than the national average — about 133 reported in total so far — NBC reports that more than 1,110 children in the United States have developed a rare inflammatory condition linked with the coronavirus, a complication that has killed at least 20 children nationally.

Sally Goza, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, noted this month in a statement on the coronavirus in children: "As a pediatrician who has practiced medicine for over three decades, I find this number staggering and tragic. We haven't seen a virus flash through our communities in this way since before we had vaccines for measles and polio. And while we wait for a vaccine to be tested and licensed to protect children from the virus that causes COVID-19, we must do more now to protect everyone in our communities."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.