I thought this back to school year was going to be different than last year. I think everyone did.

Last year, I took all of my kids out of school and placed them in a cyber school. A couple did well. A couple did not. But we all had the hope that with vaccines, we’d be back in school for fall, maybe even without masks, at least for those kids who were old enough to get vaccinated.

Then, a few things happened:

  1. People didn’t get vaccinated.
  2. People got tired of wearing masks.
  3. And then, the Delta variant started hitting us hard.

With all those factors, I felt confident that my school board in my large county outside of a metropolitan city in the Northeast would require masks. And with the FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine, they’d require vaccinations of teachers as well.

Related: Should we send our kids back to school? This discussion, AGAIN

But a few nights ago, they voted that kids would start school with no masking, no contact tracing, no reporting, and no mandatory vaccinations of staff. NOTHING.

So basically, a child or adult who has a disease that has killed millions, that is causing massive spread and hospitalizations in children (even deaths), can come to school on Monday.

If they had lice, they would have to stay home. And the parents in the classroom where the lice was found would all be notified.

But if they have COVID, they could walk right into the school building, sit in a class with their classmates with no mask, and spread it around the school.

Just let that sink in for a minute. 

There is a reason why the CDC has changed their recommendations to mandatory masking in schools. Same for the AAP. That’s why even our own Bucks County Health Department (along with the local hospitals) recommended masking in schools.

That’s also why our local government offices are requiring vaccinations for employees and masks in the building. It’s why the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is requiring masks. And why Philadelphia schools are doing the same, along with mandatory vaccinations for teachers.

But our own powerful Central Bucks School District voted 5-4 to not accept the new Health and Safety Plan, which was revised by our Health Commissioner and our own Department of Health after our PA Health Secretary criticized what was a reckless plan.

Why exactly? It’s the minimum that could be done to protect the most vulnerable in our schools. And yet, THEY VOTED NO.

The Delta variant is not necessarily making kids sicker or causing more hospitalizations of children under 12. Kids still make up about 12-15% of COVID cases and 2-4% of hospitalizations, currently, says Dr. Roberta DeBiasi, head of pediatric infectious diseases at Children’s National Hospital here in Washington, D.C.

But because Delta spreads more efficiently, and with unvaccinated kids (and possibly, unvaccinated adults) contained in small, indoor spaces with no masks, it will make more kids sick. This means more kids will be hospitalized.

And that is actually happening. School districts who have been session for weeks now are seeing what happens when kids are in school with no masks. And when teachers are not required to vaccinate.

Here are just a few of the comments I’ve received on my posts about this issue:

“Take it from this Texan…your board made a mistake. We have had 10 days of school and already nearly 500 cases. The county health authority is recommending we shut down schools for 10 days because it is so bad. Our governor won’t allow schools to mandate masks so this is what we get.”

“Schools here [in Tennessee] keep shutting down too…and because we don’t have a remote option that means they’re using snow days and will likely have to extend the school year. It’s a mess. Keep writing letters and keep telling them to watch these other districts who are a few weeks in. We have 485 students with confirmed positive cases (not including self-testing or families who didn’t self-report) and 94 staff with confirmed cases after 2 weeks.”

“I am in Cobb County Georgia and it’s frightening to watch what is happening around us. Please do not go down this road and fight to protect you kids, your teachers and your community NOW! If you open school in the same way GA did with no protection you will have our infection rate in no time.”

The numbers of kids getting COVID since the start of school is staggering. An unvaccinated teacher spread COVID to half of her class of 24 kids.

And while there are people who’d like to think our county transmission rates are low, that is not the case. Bucks County numbers have gone up 40%, and with vaccination status at around 60% of our community, we are at a “very high risk for unvaccinated people.” Also, it is recommended that vaccinated people wear masks.

We are not in a place where we can afford to let our kids go to school unmasked.

Related: 5 ways to deal with back to school stress, from a therapist who knows

Gratefully, parents in our community have filed a lawsuit stating that this ruling violates the ADA. Many other parents across the country are taking legal action. We are doing our best to vote in new school board members this fall who have the health and safety of our students at the top of their priority list.

So what can we do when the people who are supposed to have the best interest of our children in mind CLEARLY DO NOT? 

  1. Advocate, advocate, advocate: Email your school board members with articles, with anecdotes like the ones I have above, with success stories of school districts where masks are mandatory and the numbers are staying low. Reach out to your local congresspeople. your governor… and make sure they know that your child’s safety should be a concern.
  2. Get anyone in your household who is 12 and over vaccinated (and encourage everyone else to do so): It’s okay if you were initially skeptical. It’s okay if you didn’t get it at first. You can ALWAYS change your mind. Look around you at the people who have gotten it. Are the majority of them doing well? Healthy? All of my older kids and I have had the vaccine and are okay.
  3. Mask up! My vaccinated children will be wearing masks to school. All day, every day. They know it sucks and quite frankly, they’re not super happy about it. But I remind that it’s a small inconvenience compared to the effects that having COVID could have on them and the people around them.

And finally, consider keeping your unvaccinated kids home from school. Yes, if your school has instituted an anti-mask policy, keep them home. Join up with fellow parents and send a message that your child’s health and safety are important.

I know this is not possible for everyone. In our district, you can go virtual but then you apparently can’t switch back. And like last year, keeping kids home presents a strain on parents, many of whom can’t work if their kids are home. So I get that this stand is not one everyone can make.

But if you’re in Bucks County, PA, especially in the Central Bucks School District where they start school tomorrow, but will be voting on a revised Health and Safety Plan (again), please join me in a sit-out on Monday and Tuesday. Tell your school and board members why you’re keeping your kids home. Let’s send a message that this is serious.

Top Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash