There were rumblings throughout the summer of school board meetings becoming more and more heated. As communities approached the Fall 2021 school year, more than a year into the pandemic, parents across the country were organizing to fight mask mandates and the town we live in and are raising our children in was no different.
My family and I were on vacation the week of the August 19th school board meeting but tuned in virtually and listened in horror as the crowd shouted, screamed, threatened, and attempted to intimidate board members and the few people who vocalized a different opinion. Amidst the demands for “answers” about where the school would fall on a mask mandate, emerged calls for the banning of books and certain texts, accusations that the board was promoting critical race theory (which is not taught in the K-12 educational system), and calls for “something to be done” about teachers who were pushing their “opinions” on unsuspecting children. Their primary focus was fighting mask mandates, and that appears to continue today.
What troubled me then and still does is how much the anti-mask and parental choice movement takes for granted that our children were actually receiving in-person instruction. Isn’t that the most important thing to our children’s educational development and well-being? As a working parent, I have watched most of my colleagues around the country, for the better part of the last two years, navigate their full-time jobs, while also tending to the needs of their young children receiving virtual/in-home instruction. When it comes to education and social/emotional development, there is nothing more important than an in-person learning experience and unlike thousands of schools around the country the Wantagh School District was able to achieve that. That should be a point of pride for the people in this community.
Masks are annoying. No one “wants” to wear a mask, but masks made it possible for our kids to go to school safely. Masks meant that when someone tested positive an entire classroom wasn’t required to quarantine. Masks meant our children weren’t subjected to scooping. Masks were a means to an end and that end is now and it’s to move on.
Yet, at board meetings, despite the end of the mask mandate in early March, a few parental choice activists continue to demand answers on mask policy. Even suggesting publicly that the board should “fight” the state against possible future executive orders or legislation. This raises a curious but important question, what exactly would they suggest the board do? Join a costly and futile lawsuit? How would the taxpayers feel about their money being spent in that way instead of into educational programs. While this might not represent the parental choice agenda at large, one community member at a recent board meeting suggested that Wantagh schools refuse state funding. In a budget of 80 million, with roughly 19 million coming from the state of New York, what would our schools or taxes look like if we rejected 20% of the funding we receive? As a public school are we not still subjected to state laws and regulations, regardless of how much funding we receive?
Not to mention, what are we not talking about when we continue to drive the focus to masks and vaccines, which have literally nothing to do with our children’s education. It is time to move forward, it’s time to start talking about what matters most, creating an excellent and competitive educational environment for the students in this community.