In an email to parents, Geiger Montessori Principal Neil O'Brien has advised that children would be spaced out in a ventilated cafeteria, and could remove their face masks "only to take a bite or drink."
O'Brien's email reads: "Yes. Children should wear masks during lunch. They can lower it to take a bite or a drink, and raise it to chew, swallow, or talk. Our cafeteria has a fantastic airflow system and children are spaced apart AND when over a hundred of them are in one large room (the cafeteria and gym combined) we need to treat lunchtime as a dangerous time for all. Children need to continue to wear their masks during lunch."
The policy has since been retracted after some outraged parents complained about the odd rule. But it has already created a peculiar scene at lunchtime. After placing food in their mouths, the children are asked to raise their masks "to chew, swallow or talk."
Before the school's retraction of the mask policy, a parent named Michael has contacted conservative media outlet KTTH to complain about what he calls an "insane" rule. Michael tells the "Jason Rantz Show" on KTTH that he has reached out to the principal with his concerns but has never heard back.
Asked about the matter by KTTH, the school argues that the rule is based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Washington State Department of Health. (Related: Students in Colorado walk out of schools in protest of worthless mask mandate.)
As it turns out, the school is making false claims. Documents from the state's health department indicate that "students may remove face coverings to eat and drink" and further specifies that they should abide by social distancing rules when "masks cannot be worn, such as when eating lunch." The CDC guidelines, on the other hand, make no mention of masking at lunchtime, except for stating that students have to mask up "when moving through the food service line."
Meanwhile, Michael has heard back from Shallae Hobbs – Tacoma Public Schools' administrator of health services.
Hobbs explains that the policy is based on sound science. In an email to Michael, she has provided links to several documents that supposedly back up the chewing and swallowing mask policy. But none of the advice appears anywhere in the resources she provided.
The district administrator of health services says "children are encouraged to put their mask back on when not eating or drinking as outlined in the CDC resource document outline in the K-12 Schools guidance." She cites page 6 as the source.
But neither page 6 nor any page in the document mentions wearing masks while chewing and swallowing. That page only says that you provide social distancing "for all students when masks cannot be worn, such as when eating lunch."
Hobbs then cites the "food service and school meals section" in guidance from the CDC. Again, there's not even a mention of eating lunch – the focus is on social distancing during lunch.
She also cites local guidance from the state's health department. Still, none of the documents has referenced masking when chewing. It includes the same guidance from the CDC, indicating it's not feasible to wear a mask while eating lunch.
Inexplicably, Hobbs cites the exemptions section from a secretary of health order. The order explicitly says you do not have to wear a mask "while engaged in the act of eating or drinking."
Six days and five emails later, a Tacoma Public Schools spokesperson announces the retraction of the policy at Geiger Montessori. But many are still baffled by how the principal and the district administrator of health services so spectacularly misread – or misunderstood – all the guidelines.
Elementary school children are at an extremely low risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19. According to CDC data, only 464 children aged between 0 and 17 have died of the disease. That's only 0.0068 percent of the 680,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.
Similar policies have been enacted in other educational settings across the country. Stanford University has reminded its fully vaccinated students that they must remain masked while playing basketball. The university tells them to adapt their intensity as needed to cope with the inevitable breathing difficulties. Virginia Commonwealth University has suspended its own recreational basketball activities, citing non-compliance with a similar mask rule.
Dr. Lee Merritt is definitely not a fan of wearing a mask.
She says masks are traditionally put on slaves and on cult followers. "It's a cult symbol of 'I would be quiet, I would obey, I would submit, I would transform myself into whatever you want me to be.' That's what cult symbolisms for masks are," she explains.
According to Merritt, there's no reason to put masks on children because "they don't spread disease, they don't get it and they don't die from it." (Related: New Jersey state senators argue mask mandate for children is NOT supported by science.)
It is, in fact, detrimental to their health. Along with social distancing, wearing masks for extended periods could lead to trauma and developmental delays among younger generations. "They're damaging our basic humanity by separating us from fellow humans in our particularly unique human way. You take that away, and we don't develop right, we'll not be happy people," Merritt says.
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