LOUISVILLE, KY – MARCH 17: A teacher walks among the the masked students sitting in a socially distanced classroom session at Medora Elementary School on March 17, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky. Today marks the reopening of Jefferson County Public Schools for in-person learning with new COVID-19 procedures in place. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)
By Rich Askey
Pennsylvania’s public school educators and support professionals are looking forward to returning to school in a few weeks to welcome a new class of eager students to their classrooms.
As we do so, we are at a crossroads. We look ahead with enthusiasm but recognize that, in order to make this school year successful for our students, we must exercise caution to protect them from evolving strains of the coronavirus and ensure that they can keep learning – in person.
That’s why it is so important for every school district in Pennsylvania to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent guidance on mask-wearing in schools.
The CDC’s guidance says that everyone in K-12 school buildings, regardless of vaccination status, should wear a mask to guard against the spread of the virus. And that is what all of us should do.
We wish we were looking out over a different landscape. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 Delta variant has been on the rise across the country in recent weeks. We cannot bury our heads and ignore this. As many educators have said from the outset of this pandemic, we must have confidence in the scientists who are studying this ever-changing virus and developing this data-driven guidance.
Students under 12 still don’t have access to any of the COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States. And the Delta variant attacks young people more aggressively than the original strain of the virus.
In states with lax mask rules and high COVID-19 case counts, we’re seeing the exact kind of news that we don’t want to see in Pennsylvania. An increasing number of schools are experiencing outbreaks and, in some cases, shutting down.
We can avoid that here if we make the right decisions.
We want to see and teach our students in school, in person, all day. That’s how they learn best, and that’s how we can give them the best possible education.
The last thing we want to do, as we fill our classrooms with eager young learners, is throw caution to the wind. That could result in scores of students becoming infected with the virus, bringing it home to their families, and getting themselves and others sick. We don’t want to see schools close again because of the rapid spread of the virus.
We know exactly how to prevent this. We just need to wear a piece of cloth over our mouth and nose.
Yes, it is inconvenient, making it easy for us to lose sight of the fact that lives are literally at risk. Wearing a mask, in that context, is a very, very small thing to ask.
The 2020-21 school year was daunting for all of us – parents, students, and educators alike. I’ve said many times that this past year was probably the toughest any of us will ever face when it comes to delivering the public education that every student in our state deserves.
Working together, we can definitely make this school year better, easier, and a lot closer to normal.
To do it, we just need to make sure that our students, teachers, support professionals, and families remain safe and healthy. So, let’s mask up in our schools for a little bit longer.
We want to start this school year in person, continue in person, and end in person. That’s the goal.
Now, it’s up to us to do what needs to be done to make that happen. Our students and their families are counting on us.
Rich Askey is a Harrisburg music teacher and president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.
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