How the mask mandate fight is pulling focus from our School Boards
As schools across the state open their doors to students this fall, they face many challenges interwoven with Covid-related issues and concerns. On August 16, Governor Carney required all individuals of kindergarten age and older in all Delaware K-12 public and private schools and child care centers wear a mask while indoors.
Since the implementation of the mandate in state buildings and in the anticipation of students’ return to school, we have seen passionate opinions on both sides. I am not here to take a side in the battle. What I do see as a larger problem is the battleground that has been chosen for this disagreement. Over the last few weeks, we have seen public outrage during school board meetings. During at least one meeting, it failed to be called to order after attendees refused to comply with the government order. This conflict is a detriment to the future of Delaware education and its students.
Made effective on March 11, 2021, the federal government’s American Rescue Plan provided public school districts across the country with $122 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds (ESSER). This was the third installment. In total, Delaware received approximately $400 million in emergency education funding. The stated purpose of the funds was to support innovative, emergency measures that help our students close the learning gaps created or exacerbated by the pandemic. Three fourths of that funding is at the discretion of school districts.
The focus of our school boards should be how we address the education problems caused by the pandemic and being good stewards of these taxpayer dollars. Studies estimate the pandemic has caused some students to fall up to 70% behind their peers in what they need to know in order to advance. A lack of access to technology across lower income districts has become glaringly clear. We leave our teachers unprepared for the challenges they face. To be blunt, the current education system is failing many of its students, but we have a huge opportunity if we can seize it.
We must ensure that our school board members and other educational leaders are able to focus on the very real challenges that lie ahead. While the mask mandate does inflame tempers, we must not lose sight of the opportunity to create long lasting change for our students and help those who have suffered the most during the pandemic. These should be the issues discussed at our school board meetings. Current political arguments should not overshadow the real work that needs to be done. The mandate has been decided at a state level and school boards are thus expected to comply. I implore our parents to let them follow the law and get back to the true business of serving on a school board: making tough decisions for the future of Delaware’s students.