JOHNSTON SUN RISE EDITORIAL: Twisting the mask debate

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School Committees aren’t public health officials. So their public health decisions are bound to be far from perfect.
One theme united two very different sides of the heated debate over mask mandates in schools.

Rhode Island’s state government abandoned town and city school districts, letting them twist in the winds of a complicated pandemic, failing to provide leadership at a time when leadership was sorely needed.

Finally, on Monday night, the state’s Council on Elementary and Secondary Education issued a statewide mask mandate.

Johnston’s parents never had the opportunity for debate, since the argument was left off the meeting’s regular agenda. Parents in favor of masks in school were blindsided by the Johnston School Committee’s decision to make masks optional.

Parents from both sides of this argument have been rattling off statistics to fit their argument. Statistics can be found to support or derail any school’s reopening plan.

That’s why it’s incredibly important for large health agencies, with scientists and data analysts on staff, to make sweeping public health policy.

The vast majority of School Committee members are not qualified to make public health decisions. Yet, in Rhode Island, they had been left to do exactly that.

Last year, as the Ocean State prepped its children for what promised to be a complicated year, parents were at least united in their fears and uncertainty.

Parents had a choice. They could keep their children home for distance learning, or send them to school, masked, during a pandemic.

No Rhode Island parent enjoyed making that decision. But at least they had a choice.

Now, as the 2021-22 school year approaches, the choices have been stripped away.

No one can blame parents for wanting options. No one can blame parents for wanting to keep their children safe.

Everyone can blame the state for playing the political safe-game and passing the buck to School Committees.
The Delta variant has complicated the situation. The one merciful twist to this pandemic had been its sparing of children.

With the emergence of this latest mutation, children seem to be getting sicker, quicker, and a 60 percent spike in pediatric cases in Rhode Island, over the summer, should trigger alarms in every school district.

All government agencies are capable of error. The biggest mistake, however, is to stall in the face of danger, paralyzed by indecision.

The Rhode Island Department of Health and the administration of Gov. Daniel McKee have been letting the Ocean State’s school officials and parents twist in the winds of a fierce, evolving pandemic, pitted against each other, locked in a screaming match nobody could win.
Finally, the Ocean State’s Council on Elementary and Secondary Education stepped up to fill the void. Their bold decision Monday night will twist arms.

And the governor’s office has already started insisting that’s what they meant all along. Sorry, governor, you can’t have it both ways. You refused to take a leadership stance on this issue. The state’s real leaders have emerged.

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