Editorial | Children are harmed most in right-wing culture crusades

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

School board meetings have increasingly become the preferred battleground of right wingers looking to rant and rave about whatever misinformation they were fed that morning. Apparently Facebook just isn’t cutting it anymore — they need to experience some real-life confrontation.

It’s not hard to find stories of these meetings devolving into fist fights, or school board members facing harrassment over issues such as mask mandates, transgender rights or critical race theory.

It’s safe to say that masking policies have especially struck a nerve with conservative parents. And of course, the people peddling this anti-mask nonsense insist they’re doing it all for the childrens’ sake. Actually, a more accurate description might be that Republican Party elites are the ones insisting on this, since nine states have banned school districts from setting mask requirements. Some districts, and rightfully so, have chosen to go ahead with mandates anyways.

Anti-mask, anti-truth parents’ ignorant moment in the spotlight is doing nothing to protect children. This goes without saying, but masks are proven to prevent the spread of COVID-19 without a shadow of a doubt.

But what needs to be reiterated, more than anything, is childrens’ victimhood in these culture crusades. For many of these parents, the quality of their children’s education and health seems expendable next to their desire to put on a public demonstration of lunacy.

Pennsylvania offers an example of how right-wing backlash to masks has been harming children. Children under 12 are still unable to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, meaning that masks and social distancing are crucial to making school a safe setting for them. Up until Tuesday, the state lacked a state-wide K-12 mask mandate. Allegheny County reported 773 cases among children under 12 last month, a massive increase from 157 in July, before the bulk of school districts began classes. And even if it’s rare, these cases can result in hospitalization or worse — COVID-19 has killed 358 children in the U.S., as of July 29.

Beyond the raw data on COVID-19, there’s an entire element of disruption that unmasked students can bring. Increased transmission also means an increased need for contact tracing, resulting in more students being quarantined. It’s easy to see how being suddenly yanked out of in-person school for 10-14 days can be detrimental to learning.

Unfortunately, mask mandates are not the first, nor the only ongoing spillover of cultural flashpoints into schools. If history is any indicator — desegregation and the mere existence of sex ed were both hotly debated at school board meetings at various points — it’s unlikely that they’ll be the last. Kids will suffer, whether that be with the content and quality of their education, their ability to attend school in person or their health. It’s best if we focus on this fact, and starve the problematic parents of the attention they so desperately crave.

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