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OUR VIEW: Unpopular school board decision on masks was the right one. Here’s why.

The Troup County School Board made the last-minute decision on Thursday to require masks of all students. The decision was in response to the latest COVID-19 numbers, which are near-peak levels, and will be revisited if those numbers change for the better.

More than a dozen people spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, with all but one speaking against a mask mandate. Those speakers wanted masks to be parental choice, arguing parents would do the right thing for their kids.

Some argued that it’s tougher for students to learn with masks acting as a barrier. We certainly see that argument as younger children lose the chance to pick up on facial expressions or may not make out what was being said as well.

For the most part, many of the speakers had fair points. We’re not sure the board would even disagree with many of them.

After the public spoke, each board member had a chance to weigh in. We think Joe Franklin summed it up best. Franklin said he hadn’t made up his mind when he woke up that morning, but he’d had the idea of voting to leave the mask guidance as it was (optional), and suggest the school board react to whatever the numbers say after the first few weeks of school.

But then he rethought that, considering the worst of outcomes. Franklin, understandably a little emotional, said he didn’t want a parent standing at his desk saying if the board had just done a little more then their child might still be alive. He wanted to ensure TCSS did everything in its power to keep students safe, and if a mask could help, then he thought it was the right choice.

There were a lot of arguments made during the meeting that masks don’t work. People brought articles from various news sources, spoke of personal experiences, etc.

But masks, at least in general, do work in keeping people safe against COVID-19. That’s according to medical experts (local and national), as well as the CDC. And there’s not really a downside to wearing one.

It’s also important to remember that masks are also not really about the person wearing them.  Yes, they work as a barrier to reduce the spread of droplets to keep you well,  but they also keep other people safe if you have COVID-19. It stops the disease from spreading.   

Yes, masks are uncomfortable. Yes, you can argue that masks can make breathing a little more difficult. Yes, if you want to argue it, you could say that masks might hinder learning in some ways.

But mask-wearing is an easy measure that the school system could implement systemwide to help try to help keep students well.

Superintendent Brian Shumate said his recommendation was to implement masks because he believes it can help TCSS stay in school. If at any point the school system has an influx of COVID-19 cases, then it’s possible TCSS will have to send students home for virtual learning.

As of Thursday, he said there were already 16 students who had COVID-19, and he expected that number to be much higher on Monday when students returned to the classroom.

And after he finished discussing the 16 current cases, a woman yelled out (we have it on audio): “But are they dying?”

And we think that comment proves entirely that a lot of people are missing the point.

First off, we hope they aren’t dying. It’s certainly possible for anyone to die of COVID-19 right now, even young children. Wellstar representatives at the meeting noted that Delta-variant related cases are trending younger.

The school board has to consider the health of more than 12,000 students and 1,800 employees. If a teacher is out, or multiple teachers are out, then school can’t be held. There are only so many teachers, and there’s a shortage of substitutes.

And while a parental option sounds nice, how would that be enforced? What if a child’s parent wanted them to wear a mask, but the child didn’t want to? What would stop the child from getting to school and just throwing the mask in a backpack? Is that even really parental choice or is it student choice?

It’s also important to remember that a large chunk of students aren’t even eligible to receive the vaccine yet. Anyone 12 and under can’t get the vaccine, at least at this point.

With all the information at its disposal — rising cases, the low number of vaccinated students — the school board made the right decision in requiring masks, at least for the time being.

You can argue that the timing of the decision was poor, especially considering it was just a few days before school started. That we agree with.

Obviously, the board was keeping up with the latest case numbers and needed to find a time where everyone could meet for an unplanned meeting, but the meeting could’ve — and arguably should’ve — been held earlier. Even a few days earlier would’ve helped parents.

But that point aside, a mask mandate is the right decision. It was said over and over at the meeting that board members didn’t want anyone wearing a mask, including themselves.

They hated to making this decision (and Brandon Brooks voted against. Becky Grubbs almost did.)

But that right now, masks are the easiest and most efficient way to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our schools. They were the right choice, even if many in this community disagree with it.