NOTE: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the North Gwinnett Voice and its staff. 

Mask mandates are a hot topic for Gwinnett County Public Schools right now. At best, it is a feel-good move that does little to slow the spread, flatten the curve or whatever the current flavor of the month phrase may be. This was clear with the release of first week statistics for Cobb and Gwinnett schools. One is mask optional, one is mask mandated, yet their statistics are nearly identical and both show COVID cases in less than 0.1 percent of their respective school systems. This mirrors data at a successful summer school in Gwinnett where 32,000 students attended in person, mask optional, with only six reported cases and none of them serious.

Mask mandates sound great, but in reality, mask optional is the actual practice. Students spend their lunches unmasked in crowded cafeterias; PE and weight lifting classes can be mask free zones; recesses in the younger grades are mask free, and students receive mask breaks throughout the day. Classrooms are not able to have social distancing with 97 percent of the students coming back in person. Sports have been played and will continue to be played without masks. So why change from mask optional, which was working, to a mandate? Not because the virus is more dangerous, as there are school systems around us that have been and continue to be mask optional successfully. The mandates appear to be attempts to cater to a select group of parents that the school board wants to represent, while ignoring a larger part of their actual constituency, and also ignoring the facts. 

What mask mandates are doing in actual practice is creating a new class of school sanctioned bullies. If students mimic what their parents say, then there is a group of parents that is encouraging their students to be bullies against students who do not wear a mask at all, or wear them correctly. Teachers are also encouraging this, some even using their own classroom rules. Is that what we have become, is this what we want to be? Schools have spent years and a lot of money to discourage bullying and provide positive lessons for the kids. The pandemic hysteria is undoing all of that and more. This is changing an entire generation. 

Going back to mask optional not only gives the choice back to the parents, the students and the teachers, where it belongs, but it also takes away a path for bullying that does irreparable harm to students who have suffered enough through this pandemic. It also gives a voice to all 180,000 students and 23,000 staff members without sacrificing safety, despite what the loud minority would have us believe. Mandates are a slippery slope and the first step to communism. 

Lastly, for all three of our “majority” school board members and our new superintendent to attend a gala with over 800 people in a much more confined space than a classroom and not be masked is a hypocrisy of the highest nature. “Do as I say, not as I do” is what we are teaching our kids. Not a good life lesson.

Lisa Ramsey and Michael Rudnick

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