For the last two years, we have become deeply entrenched in our own communities as we spend a lot more time at home and in our neighborhoods, and a lot less time traveling and exchanging experiences and ideas. We read headlines about what’s happening in different parts of the country and point fingers at charts and headlines, praying our little dot on the map is smarter than another little dot on the map. We’re all beyond desperate to be right, but the truth is, each of us has been right — and wrong — along the way. Admitting that, in my opinion, is the key to moving forward with compassion.
I haven’t written much about my personal experience during the pandemic. At least not publicly. I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers. I’m as sensitive and (more) self righteous than the next person these days. But for the past week, I’ve been talking a lot to my kids about the work I’ve been doing in local parenting groups to advocate for students. They were surprised — and delighted — to know that I spent my time writing letters to the school board and meeting with district leaders to ensure community discussion around important topics. (I mean, I swear I’d told them hundreds of times, but for some reason this week it stuck.)
Last night, with Pink by my side, I made this public statement to our school board. (Yes, of course I got a shaky voice and teared up…you know me.) They were deciding whether to remove the *outdoor* mask mandate for our K-8 schools. (Note for non-CA people: While the indoor mask mandate will be lifted in California next week, K-12 schools are one of the exceptions and masks will continue to be required indoors on campuses.) Our Superintendent shared great data and made a good case for removing the mandate, and I added my comment along with others’ comments before the school board voted unanimously (thank you!!) to do away with the outdoor mask mandate.
Today, when I told my 10-year-old daughter I wasn’t going to speak tonight since I’d already written a letter (or 2), she looked crestfallen. I asked if she wanted me to speak up for her tonight, and she said yes. And since our kids have done everything we’ve asked of them, I wanted to do what she asked of me—even if it makes me outrageously uncomfortable.
Because I want my kids to see that adults are willing to do hard things for them too.
The kids in our community have masked. They’ve sat eating lunch in isolation. They’ve worried themselves silly about getting their classmates and their teachers sick. They’ve swabbed their noses at least once a week. They’ve waited in 45-minute lines to proudly get stuck with a needle—twice, even three times in some cases. And, now, with Omicron, many of them have missed school and/or been isolated from family members to stop the community spread.
On Wednesday, as a person of voting age, I will be allowed to go almost anywhere throughout my day without having to put a mask on. I can grab a coffee, go get a pedicure, hit the downtown stores, go to lunch with a friend, and sneak in a quick workout without even thinking about a mask. My daughter will put her mask on at 8am and will only take it off long enough to sit on an X, 6-feet from her friends while eating a quick lunch. Is that because she’s at greater risk than I am?
Two years in, we’ve learned a lot and our community has put in the work. Here’s to a hugely vaccinated population. Here’s to canceled vacations and canceled sports and staying home when we’re sick. Here’s to buying up every home test in the Bay Area so we can test our kids the moment they have a stuffy nose. We have got to celebrate our progress and start looking forward to a time where masks in school are an individual choice. The science shows great one-way masking options exist for those who continue to be concerned or compromised. But the truth is keeping 100% of our kids masked for the unforeseeable future comes with real risks too.
I know the state and county mandates do not allow us to suddenly say there will be no masks in our schools. I’m not asking for the impossible, but I am asking for child-first advocacy from our district leadership in reaching out and appealing to the CDHP to make the change. I’m also asking our community to start learning how we can best assess our personal risk, and come up with our own strategies to live in a community where each individual has a different risk profile. I pour my heart and time into this community and really do care about everyone. I do not feel this conversation is reckless or selfish.
And, as we do make a shift to this next phase of normal, I ask that we show each other grace. A child continuing to wear a mask may be immunocompromised or have developed severe anxiety about getting Covid. And a child not wearing a mask may have speech or social-emotional delays. We all did one, long hard part together…and I hope we can do this next hard part together too.
Today, during morning announcements, the middle school kids were told that the outdoor mask mandate would expire, and that the outdoor 7th grade dance this afternoon would be mask-optional. I was told the kids cheered and were practically jumping up and down. It’s easy to say kids don’t care. They’ve had their voices muffled for a long time and don’t have paid professionals speaking for them. But I’ll continue to do my best on their behalf, because I know there is still work to do.