Author: Larry Sand
Date: March 7, 2022
After being the driving force behind school shutdowns, the teachers union in L.A. is now leading the drive to keep children masked.
State officials announced last week that as of March 12, California will no longer require school children to wear masks, and thankfully most California school districts are going along with the decision. Also, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said it would “shift to strongly recommending indoor masking requirements” at schools and child care centers, but would no longer require indoor masking as of March 12.
Shortly after the announcements, new Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent Alberto Carvalho said that he “recognizes the updated health guidance” and added that he is “committed to upholding our science-driven approach.” But he followed by saying, “We respect the voices of all stakeholders, and as such, we will remain engaged with our labor partners, employees and families as we maintain and seek practices that are protective, responsive and in the best interest of our school communities.”
Families, however, have not been consulted by the school district, so the “engaged” are labor partners and employees, both of which are unionized. And as the tail that wags the LAUSD dog, the United Teachers of Los Angeles is insisting on extending the mask ritual, hence face coverings will be required for half a million or so kids for an indeterminate period. (The school district has an agreement with UTLA that masking will be imposed through June, though the two sides agreed they would “meet and bargain over potential changes to this requirement at the request of either party.”) Therefore, children in L.A. can now go to athletic events, the movies, and the supermarket sans mask, but that freedom ends at the schoolhouse door. It’s important to stress that no one is suggesting banning masks in school, but rather simply dropping the mandate, which never should have existed in the first place. There is a load of evidence that shows masks don’t help curtail the spread of the disease, and, in fact, can be quite detrimental to children’s development.
For example, after looking at 150 studies on masking, the Brownstone Institute concludes that “surgical and cloth masks, used as they currently are being used (without other forms of PPE protection), have no impact on controlling the transmission of Covid-19 virus. The body of evidence indicates that face masks are largely ineffective.”
Dr. Marty Makary, professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and Dr. H. Cody Meissner chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Tufts Children’s Hospital point out that, “covering a child’s face mutes these nonverbal forms of communication and can result in robotic and emotionless interactions, anxiety and depression. Seeing people speak is a building block of phonetic development. It is especially important for children with disabilities such as hearing impairment.”
Scott Sturman, a retired doctor and engineer, adds, “masking children is likely worsening linguistic and emotional development, as masking nullifies the crucial contribution of facial expression. The inflicted damage could be irreparable. We humans are social creatures, who communicate through complex languages and facial gestures. Our personalities are ingrained in these unique expressions, which impart visual messages that words alone cannot convey.”
Dr. Jeanne Ann Noble, an emergency medicine doctor at the University of California San Francisco, maintains that science, not fear, should dictate policies. “Schools have been lumped in with high-risk settings including health care sites, homeless shelters and prisons, despite young people having a very low risk of serious illness. It doesn’t make sense to let unvaccinated people go without masks in restaurants, bars and other indoor locations, as now allowed by the state, but require low-risk students to wear masks all day.” She pointedly adds, “that continuing school mask mandates is less about science and more about fear-based policy and teachers union politics.”
Unlike the U.S., Sweden has understood all this and acted accordingly since the onset of Covid. Lockdowns have been rare. The schools never had a mask mandate. Test scores have been normal. There is no talk about learning loss. And nationwide, their death toll is far lower than ours.
So just what will it take to unmask kids in L.A. schools? Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers – which UTLA is part of – suggests that masks should be required until there is “zero transmission in schools.” Which is tantamount to saying that children should not be allowed to ride in cars till there are “zero deaths” of children due to auto accidents. UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz follows this bizarre line of thought, asserting that “though Covid-19 cases have been declining, there are still many unvaccinated children in schools and early education programs, so discussing dropping the mandate would be ‘premature.’”
It’s worth noting that in August 2021, when Myart-Cruz was asked about how her union’s insistence on keeping L.A.’s schools locked down for over a year may have impacted the city’s k-12 students, her remarks were outrageous: “There is no such thing as learning loss. Our kids didn’t lose anything. It’s OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables. They learned resilience. They learned survival. They learned critical-thinking skills. They know the difference between a riot and a protest. They know the words insurrection and coup.” She went on to say that “learning loss” is a “fake crisis marketed by shadowy purveyors of clinical and classroom assessments.”
As a result of the shutdowns and forced masking, L.A. schools have been taking a hit. As Los Angeles Times education writer Howard Blume notes, a recent poll revealed that about one in three L.A. voters give D or F marks to public schools. If the unhappy parents decide to remove their children from public schools in Los Angeles, UTLA will be one of the prime reasons.
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Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.