Masking requirements pertaining to COVID-19 is a polarizing issue. There are groups of people that strongly support masking requirements, while other groups strongly oppose these requirements. One group wants to assist school boards statewide in eliminating masking requirements for children attending school for this upcoming school year.
Representatives of the group Unmask Our Kids WA met with those interested in supporting their cause on July 12 at Pioneer Park in Waterville. In addition to explaining their group’s position, the representatives requested local support in attending Waterville School District’s board meeting on July 28 at which they hope to convince the school board to lift their requirements that children wear masks while attending school. The group also reiterated that while they are looking for local support, they are a state-wide movement that is committed to getting all Washington school districts to eliminate their masking policies completely as soon as possible.
As of July 6, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) requires all students and adults to wear masks while attending school regardless of vaccination status while indoors. However, the DOH no longer requires masks to be worn while outdoors. The requirements also allow for some exceptions based on age, development, or disability.
Ahna Coonan, one of the individuals representing Unmask Our Kids WA, provided a brief background of the group. The group began with just four women from various backgrounds, including at least one who works in a school. All four had negative experiences with Washington state departments regarding COVID-19 masking requirements. The women all concluded that unless parents stand up to the schools, masking requirements will not go away in the foreseeable future. These four individuals began a movement that has become a state-wide organization.
Coonan cited an article in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), a peer-reviewed medical journal, published on June 30 to support the group’s stance that children should not be required to wear masks.
“The article in JAMA states, ‘Children should not be forced to wear face masks.’ The article referenced multiple studies supporting removing face masks from children as they are harmful and dangerous,” said Coonan.
The paper, which is entitled “Experimental Assessment of Carbon Dioxide Content in Inhaled Air With or Without Face in Healthy Children: A Randomized Clinical Trial”, discusses a large-scale survey in Germany. There were references to six other publications. The trial primarily discussed in this article consisted of 25,930 children and used the carbon dioxide limits described as acceptable and unacceptable as outlined by the German Federal Environmental Office.
“68% of the participating children had problems when wearing nose and mouth coverings,” states the article.
In the end, the article does support that children should not be required to wear face masks and that decision-makers should weigh the evidence of the study.
Waterville School District Superintendent, Tabitha Mires, is sympathetic to the group’s goal. She says she does not know of any superintendent in the state that wants to deal with masking requirements, they all would rather be focusing solely on education. However, COVID-19 safety protocols are something they all must deal with to ensure that in-person learning can occur.
Mrs. Mires points out that those in Unmask Our Kids WA are approaching the wrong organization when debating the issue with the school districts directly. According to Mires, in Washington the school districts are not making individual masking policies. She explains that in our state it is the state DOH that issues the masking requirements. She explains that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issues nation-wide recommendations. The state DOH then weighs the recommendations and issues requirements that schools must follow. These requirements are then sent to the county DOH’s who help individuals and groups work within the state-wide requirements.
“School districts cannot willfully disregard requirements from the Department of Health without there being serious repercussions,” states Mires.
She notes that while there are masking requirements right now, they may change before the beginning of the school year. Mires notes that three days after the DOH issued their most current requirements, the CDC updated their guidance. On July 9, the CDC changed their recommendation to state that fully vaccinated individuals should not be required to wear masks indoors or outdoors, but distancing should be maintained at three feet. Mrs. Mires stresses that unless the state DOH changes their requirements, the July 6 mandates are still what schools are required to follow.
Meanwhile, local Unmask Our Kids WA representative Andreas Landon feels that the relaxing of the outdoor masking policy at schools is not enough based on the June 30 JAMA article.
“It is our job to protect our children. Doctor Malcom Butler with the Chelan-Douglas County Health Department has been uncooperative in working with this group or individual families on this issue,” states Landon.
Mrs. Mires has had a different experience in dealing with Dr. Butler and the county health department.
“He has been phenomenal in helping to get our kids back to school. I think that’s been lost. Other schools have not been that lucky,” says Mires.
Mrs. Mires points out that Dr. Butler worked closely with Waterville School District to get kids back to in-person learning very early in the school year, first part-time, then full-time while meeting the state DOH requirements. She notes that kids in our school district were fully back to in-person learning before many other school districts were able to get their students back inside schools even on a part-time basis. Albeit everybody in Waterville was required to wear a mask while attending school.
While members of Unmask Our Kids WA have a differing viewpoint than the state DOH regarding the current school masking requirements, both Andreas Landon and Ahna Coonan stress that the organization’s goal is to work with and not against schools both in Waterville and state-wide on the student masking policies.
“We are trying to respectfully partner with the school board to remove masks for the safety of our children,” says Landon.
“We are not against anyone. We are for our children,” adds Coonan.
Both representatives ask that anybody supporting the goals of Unmask Our Kids WA come to the Waterville School District board meeting on July 28 to show their support.
No matter what side of the COVID-19 school masking policy you are on, the one thing we can all agree on is this debate is not going away any time soon.