- The US has reported nearly 1 million COVID-19 cases among students since the school year began.
- Schools that require masks see fewer COVID-19 outbreaks, according to two new CDC studies.
- Insider spoke to frustrated parents who are taking action against their districts’ lax mask policies.
Every day, Blake, 11, goes to his school in Trussville, Alabama, with a mask on his face. And every day, Blake finds himself in a small minority among his fellow classmates.
The 5th grader lives in a multi-generational home outside Birmingham with his elderly grandmother and mom, Kim Hagood, who lives with an autoimmune disease.
At 11-years-old, Blake is not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, making masks all the more important in Hagood’s stringent efforts to ward off the coronavirus from her highly-susceptible home.
Earlier this year, when it came time to register her son for the current school year, Hagood said she was surprised to see her son’s district would not be offering a virtual option, despite rising COVID-19 cases in the region. Blake had spent the previous school year completing the 4th grade online, while some of his classmates attended school in-person — where masks were required among everyone at all times.
So, although Hagood said she was nervous to send her son back to the classroom amid the raging Delta variant, she did so with the assumption that her son, and his fellow schoolmates, would be masked.
But days before the school year started in August, her son’s district, Trussville City Schools, announced that masking would only be required in certain instances. Students would not be forced to don a mask in “uncrowded hallways, outdoors, in the cafeteria, or any other time where social distancing can be achieved,” including in certain classroom settings, according to The Trussville Tribune.
Hagood said she believes the policy is an attempt to kowtow to a substantial sect of parents in the community who have taken a defiant stand against masks and vaccines as a newfound facet of their political ideology.
“I don’t care about politics,” Hagood told Insider. “But we believe in science and what our doctors tell us.”
And that science is undeniable: Masks work. Two new studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week showed schools that require masks see fewer COVID-19 outbreaks.
As her community watched the start of the school year coincide with creeping COVID-19 numbers, Hagood said several neighboring towns implemented temporary mask requirements to combat the spread, leaving her son’s district as one of the few remaining school systems in the area without a full mandate.
In response, Hagood, along with a group of nearly 100 worried parents, doctors, and community members got together and presented the Trussville Board of Education with a letter requesting school-wide mask mandates, as well as a community-based task force to monitor the virus in schools.
The board received their letter on September 14, according to Hagood, but the group is still waiting for a response.
Trussville City Schools did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Children hold placards outside a meeting of the Volusia County School Board in Deland.
Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Fed-up parents are starting to take a stand
Hagood is just one among tens of thousands of parents across the country who have grown exasperated with what they see as a divisive wave of political ideology dictating the safety of their kids in school, as the Delta variant sparks an alarming rise in cases among young, unvaccinated children.
Kathleen Schneider, of Clinton Township, Michigan, is mother to four boys, three of whom are under the age of 11.
She’s no stranger to speaking her mind when it comes to the safety of her sons in the time of COVID-19. Last winter, when her kids were attending in-person school, she wrote to their principal, encouraging him to send kids home for virtual learning until the winter peak had dissipated.
Despite a polite acknowledgment of her request from the principal, Schneider said nothing changed, leaving her frustrated.
In the spring, Schneider said parents were given the option of sending their kids to school for in-person learning in the fall or keeping them at home for online classes. Like Hagood, Schneider assumed the district’s prior mask mandate would carry over into the new year. But come September, a standard start-of-the-school-year email informed parents that masking among students would be optional.
“By this time, we had already had to decide if we were going online or in person,” she told Insider. “My decision might have been different.”
After the first few days of school, Schneider received a welcome video from her son’s Kindergarten classroom. In the video, her son was one of three kids wearing a mask out of a class of 30, she said.
That’s when she decided to speak up — again.
Schneider wrote to the superintendent and the board of directors for Chippewa Valley Schools. Then she attended a school board meeting and gave an impassioned speech in favor of mandating masks.
Again, she received no response but a “thank you” from the school board members who expressed gratitude for her polite, restrained behavior in making the request, she said.
“It’s just terrifying,” Schneider said. “You feel like you’re putting your kid at risk every day.”
Chippewa Valley Schools did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
In this Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021 file photo, Students, some wearing protective masks, arrive for the first day of school at Sessums Elementary School in Riverview, Fla.
AP Photo/Chris O’Meara, File
Parents’ frustration spans across the country
The fight over masking has intensified in the last two months as kids across the country returned to the classroom in droves. Anti-mask parents have overrun school board meetings, threatened administrators, and assaulted students over the increasingly incendiary policies.
But while much of the media coverage has focused on the antics of the anti-masking crowd, the other side — parents who support masking — are just as passionate and eager to protect their kids.
They’re just hoping their quieter approach will prove fruitful.
Hagood, Schneider, and more than 33,000 other parents across the US have signed a pledge started by parenting nonprofit ParentsTogether, encouraging school leaders to require masks in the classroom.
“Too many elected officials are playing politics with the health of our kids and educators, and parents are now pushing back to demand that school leaders, superintendents, and school boards follow public health guidelines and do their part to keep our children safe,” Bethany Robertson, Co-Director of ParentsTogether, said in a statement.
Debi Dezelske, from Sparta, Wisconsin, a 63-year-old mother of two adopted sons, said she signed ParentsTogether’s pledge because she was terrified of sending her youngest, unvaccinated son to a school without a mask requirement, not only for his health but for hers, too.
“Not every parent is 28 or 32 or 35-years-old,” she said. “How about Grandma and Grandpa? How about the parents here who are 63 like me and adopted these children?”
COVID numbers in her sons’ rural district got so bad, so quickly, that the school board backtracked only days into the year and implemented a temporary mask mandate.
But while Dezelske was pleased with the development, not everyone in Sparta was as happy.
“That’s when the fighting started with the parents,” she said.
People celebrate after the Salt Lake County Council voted Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Salt Lake City, to overturn a school mask order for kids under the age of 12 issued early this week by the county’s top health official.
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
Parents point to politics as the problem
All three mothers said their communities have been ravaged by infighting and chaos over mask mandates since the school year began, and all three unequivocally blamed politics.
“I think they turned it all to politics,” Dezelski said of her community members. “They’re kind of waiting for Trump to walk out of the cornfield.”
For Schneider, the link between political ideology and masks should be nonexistent.
“It has nothing to do with who you want to be president or in office,” she said. “It’s about keeping people safe. This is a stupid thing to not require it. Just put a mask on.”
But with little response from their respective school boards on the topic of masking, Hagood and Schneider said they’re willing to play the political game if that’s what it takes to keep their kids safe.
“It needs to change, and we’re trying to do that,” Hagood said. “Last year we were out, voting in new city council members because they vote in the Board of Education.”
“I can’t wait for the next round of voting,” she added.
While Schneider hopes her input might persuade the district to change its policy, she isn’t particularly hopeful. But that doesn’t mean she’s done trying.
“I guess my next plan is to write to the governor and ask her to mandate it in all the schools again,” she said. “I’m going to write and encourage my friends to write her to see if we can make a big enough impact.”
“I’m not ready to give up,” Schneider added. “Not for my kids.”
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