Republicans Pretty Chill With Sacrificing Children In Cynical Mask Culture War
Republicans have taken the bold policy position that children should suffer and die on the altar of freedom. That isn't new. They resist any sensible gun safety legislation even after repeated school shootings. But there is no weird, outdated constitutional amendment guaranteeing dullards the right to spread COVID-19. There shouldn't be a hassle over mask and vaccine mandates in public schools, but here we are, smack dab in the worst of all possible worlds.
So far, there are seven Republican-run states that outright ban mask mandates: Iowa, Utah, Arizona, Texas, Florida (obviously), Tennessee, and South Carolina. (Oklahoma's mask mandate ban was blocked last month.)However, 25 states have no policy at all, and with all the shouty MAGA parents flipping out over masks, you can imagine that most schools in those states take the path of least violent resistance.
Wisconsin has no universal mask policy for its schools. The boards of education for the School District of Waukesha and the School District of Fall Creek voted to ditch most of the coronavirus mitigation measures that had been in place last year, even though the Delta variant of the coronavirus is more contagious and a significant threat to children. The decision ignored guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
Shannon Jensen and Gina Kildahl sent their children to elementary schools in these districts. The kids wore masks, but that's less effective if other, maskless kids are breathing COVID-19 on them. It didn't take long — just a few weeks, in fact — before both their sons tested positive for coronavirus. Jensen and Kildahl are rightly pissed and suing the schools over their half-assed policies regarding masks, quarantining, and contact tracing.
Because classes were held without adequate safety measures, Jensen's lawsuit alleges, coronavirus cases spread within the district's schools. The school district and its board are "knowingly, needlessly, unreasonably, and recklessly exposing the public to Covid-19 … endangering public health," her lawsuit adds.
The Minocqua Brewing Company, a super PAC based in northern Wisconsin, is funding both lawsuits. Kirk Bangstad, a former Democratic candidate for the Wisconsin state Assembly, leads the committee and has criticized the state's pandemic response. Bangstad, who had to close his brewpub during the pandemic, doesn't believe ignoring COVID-19 will make it go away. He believes a vocal anti-mask minority has an outsized presence at school board meetings and this has led to bad policies.
"We're hoping to do a class-action suit against all school boards in Wisconsin that aren't providing the CDC-recommended mitigations for students," he told The Washington Post on Monday night. The goal, Bangstad added, is to hold "to account these school boards who are anti-science and anti-mask."
Yeah, if you can't reason with them, sue the fuck out of them.
Wisconsin hospital workers confirmed this month that both pediatric COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are steadily rising. Dr. Michael Gutzeit, chief medical officer at Children's Wisconsin, said, "I encourage families and school districts to reinforce the use of masks to decrease the spread of viruses, especially as we see a continued rise in COVID-19 and rhinovirus. Masks are our best tool for limiting disruptions to the school year."
But medial professionals are so polite and non-threatening. It's the exact opposite personality profile that's dominating school board meetings.
Megan Jehn of Arizona State University led a team of researchers in Pima and Maricopa counties who compared outbreaks in schools with mask mandates and those that took a “whatevs" approach.
The study found schools that required all students and staff on campus to wear face masks—regardless of whether or not they were vaccinated—were 3.5 times less likely to have a coronavirus outbreak by mid-September than schools that didn't implement masking, after controlling for other factors in the schools.
Despite these obvious and compelling results, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey still maintains a statewide ban on mask mandates, which Arizona Schools Superintendent Kathy Hoffman is doing her best to fight. Scottsdale Republican Rep. Joseph Chaplik refused to vote for the GOP-negotiated spending plan unless mask mandates were banned. Senator Kyrsten Sinema from
Sinema-Land Arizona has remained silent on this issue, and she hasn't even tweeted the word “mask" since February.
In Texas, parents of medically at risk students are suing Governor Greg Abbott over his mask mandate bans on the grounds that this denies them equal access to a safe education. It's a federal suit so President Joe Biden's Education Department can join the party.
Prolonging the pandemic is apparently working for Republicans, as voter confidence in Biden on COVID-19 has dropped in recent polls. It's not as if Republicans don't believe in science. They're just more motivated by data that directly benefits them. Let the children be damned.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."