An unfortunate necessity

Published 7:19 pm Friday, August 27, 2021

The hesitancy and concern six members of the Beaufort County Schools Board of Education showed in voting to reverse course and implement a district-wide mask mandate is a good indicator of how much no one really wanted this to happen again.

At this week’s board of education this week and beyond, we’ve heard community members discuss just about everything they don’t like about masks — questioning how sanitary they are, how effective they are and how necessary they are. You can pick apart those arguments and probably find plenty of truths and inaccuracies, but ultimately there’s one thing that stands above all: From a non-health standpoint, masks aren’t natural or beneficial for our students to wear.

But from a health standpoint, they are necessary — if not solely for the fact that, based on quarantining protocols from the state, those masks will help keep more students in the classroom when there is an outbreak. And those masks can provide some important protections particularly for students younger than 12 who don’t yet have the option of getting vaccinated.  As much as we want things to go back to normal in the classroom, with masks out of the picture, we certainly don’t want a repeat of the previous year — one defined by unpredictability, confusion and frustration as teachers, students and families navigated the realm of virtual learning.

Thankfully, local schools are much better equipped to accommodate a switch to virtual learning. Teachers have been instructed to mix plenty of technology-based activities into their lessons so students can build familiarity with those tools, and they’ve also been instructed to make course materials available virtually so they can be easily accessed should a change occur. But there’s a reason why the school system opted not to continue its virtual academy this year; students need to be in school for educational purposes, as well as for the sake of their mental, social and physical wellbeing.

So for now, students and staff will wear masks, which should result in less classroom shutdowns, less students being sent home and more valuable in-person instruction. Given that the mask mandate will be reviewed on a monthly basis, it’s not unreasonable to think that our local schools will be able to shift back toward mask-free facilities if vaccination rates increase significantly in the months to come.