AN OPEN LETTER URGING SCHOOLS NOT TO MASK OUR KIDS

MASKING

To the Administrators, Owners, Teachers, and Parents of Local Montessori Schools:

This letter was originally addressed to specific schools and their administrators, and the letter contained references and cites to other local schools. This website version of the letter is intended for wider distribution, and so identifying information about the local schools and state rules has been removed.

As parents of four children who have attended your schools, we write to express our grave concerns over recently-announced policies for the upcoming school year.  We are most concerned about policies requiring students to wear masks.  We are also concerned about having their temperatures checked upon arrival at school, but this is less of a safety issue and more of a logistical one.  The purpose of this letter is to urge schools to leave mask choice to parents and to eliminate temperature checks from your fall plans.  We also encourage parents to speak up with their opinions.

To our school administrators and owners, we respect each of you, and we know that you want to do what is best for the children.  We believe, however, that the policies currently intended for the fall are mistakes.  While we address this letter to you primarily, we also address it to the parents and teachers because this is not an issue that should be decided without input.  We hope that parents and teachers will engage in further dialogue with you, defining what the coming year will look like for our children.

No Mandate for Masks on Children

At the outset, we want to note that there is no government mandate for children to wear masks at school. In fact, there are no government mandates at all; there are guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (available at https://tinyurl.com/yc58q9qa) (“CDC Guidance”) and our state’s Department of Education (DOE) (“DOE Guidance”).  Neither set of guidelines suggests mandating masks on children.

The CDC Guidance states that school employees should wear masks, but masks should only be “encouraged in students (particularly older students) if feasible and are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult.”  Thus, there would be no reason for students, particularly students as young as age 3, to be required to wear masks.  In fact, the guidance I have seen from your schools demonstrates that there will be significant use of physical distancing in the classrooms; thus, the addition of a mask is unnecessary, even under the CDC Guidance.

The DOE guidelines differ based upon the level of community spread of COVID-19.  There are three levels detailed in the guidance.  If the community has substantial spread, in-person school should be avoided.  For both minimal/moderate spread and low/no spread communities, masks should be permitted, but there is no recommendation to require them.

No Medical Evidence Of Efficacy Of Masks​

There is no medical evidence that shows a benefit to the community from children wearing masks.  In fact, in a recent article published in the New England Journal of Medicine in which widespread use of masks in hospital settings was the focus, it was stated as a given that “We know that wearing a mask outside health care facilities offers little, if any, protection from infection.”  Michael Klompas, M.D., M.P.H., Charles A. Morris, M.D., M.P.H., Julia Sinclair, M.B.A., Madelyn Pearson, D.N.P., R.N., and Erica S. Shenoy, M.D., Ph.D., Universal Masking in Hospitals in the Covid-19 Era, New England Journal of Medicine (May 21, 2020) (available at https://tinyurl.com/yccvx8cl).

The article was focused on the question of whether widespread masking should be required in healthcare settings.  In other words, there is a question as to whether the type of masking you are intending to require amongst 3-12 year olds should even be required in medical facilities.  The New England Journal of Medicine article states that other methods of preventing spread, including handwashing, are more critical, and that “the extent of marginal benefit of universal masking over and above these foundational measures is debatable.”  In fact, it concludes that universal masking is more symbolic than actually useful in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

There is no justification for a stricter standard of prevention in schools than is employed in hospitals.

In addition, the World Health Organization has recently reported that it is “very rare” for an asymptomatic person to transmit COVID-19.  (https://tinyurl.com/yator7uy.)  So masking healthy children is not going to have any positive impact.

Moreover, in a recent commentary posted by Doctors Lisa M Brosseau and Margaret Sietsema of the University of Illinois at Chicago, cloth masks woefully failed in the last pandemic in 1918.  In a contemporaneous study, researchers “found that the number of cloth layers needed to achieve acceptable efficiency made them difficult to breathe through and caused leakage around the mask. We found no well-designed studies of cloth masks as source control in household or healthcare settings.”  Dr. Brosseau and Dr. Sietsema concluded that widespread mask-wearing is not supported for COVID-19.  (https://tinyurl.com/y86kfs8b.)

For the families who have children who are actually immunocompromised and are concerned about their safety attending school, the universal masking of all students is not a solution to their concerns.  That child’s family will have to weigh the risks of having the child attend school during COVID-19.  Personally, even if we believed that the masks could truly prevent transmission, we would not be trusting other students – including our own children who are six, eight, eleven, and thirteen years old – to properly wear their masks all day long to protect the at-risk child.  (Quebec has followed a consistent approach, recommending that “For health and safety reasons, it is recommended that students and staff members who are vulnerable in terms of health (e.g. chronic disease, severe immunodeficiency, pregnancy) not return to school until further notice.” (See the province’s guidance at https://tinyurl.com/yd52fvwu).)

Significant Safety Concerns For Children Wearing Masks

In addition to the lack of efficacy for preventing spread of COVID-19, there are significant safety concerns for children wearing masks for extended periods.

Physical Safety

Masks pose actual physical risks to our children.  Wearing them during physical activity has actually led to adolescent deaths in China.  (https://tinyurl.com/ycyl6vbe.)

We have seen and heard multiple anecdotal stories from adults who have to wear masks now in their workplaces who did not previously.  They report rashes, outbreaks of acne, and hypoxia (deprivation of adequate oxygen leading the sufferer to feel unwell (think of altitude sickness)) from prolonged mask use.  Many adults can personally attest to severe discomfort from having to wear masks for any significant duration.  MSN recently reported on multiple adverse reactions otherwise healthy people are experiencing.  (https://tinyurl.com/ybt3r998.)  One critical one is a depressed immune system, which will make all of our children more susceptible to colds and flu.

The University of New South Wales completed the first clinical study of wearing cloth masks and found significant increase in respiratory infections amongst study participants who wore cloth masks.  (https://tinyurl.com/yagzx4gx.)  These were healthcare workers, and the study concluded that they should not be wearing cloth masks. 

In Toronto, Canada, Dr. Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, warns that masks should not be worn for extended periods (with “too long” being two to four hours).  (https://tinyurl.com/y9t3xq4p.)  He pointed specifically to a United Kingdom study where healthcare workers in cloth masks all day were thirteen times more likely to contract respiratory illness than workers who wore masks only when necessary.

For more professional writings on this topic, please see this wonderful aggregation of sources by Jennifer Kozek, LPC, NBCC of the Family Wellness & Psychotherapy Center in Woodbury, Connecticut.  (https://tinyurl.com/ybgctfjq.)

Social and Psychological Safety

The social and psychological dangers are also very real.  Pediatricians are raising these concerns.  The Southern California chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement which called guidelines which require masks in children “not realistic or even developmentally appropriate for children.”  (See the full text of the statement at https://tinyurl.com/ybqv7h4x.)  It continued, “wearing masks throughout the day can hinder language and socio-emotional development, particularly for younger children.”

We are also concerned about the emotional messages being sent to children in an effort to obtain compliance.  One teacher expressed that she would explain to the children that they need to value the health and safety of their classmates and thus wear a mask.  While this may sound innocuous, in fact it is teaching a value to our children to place the welfare of others above their own welfare, and to do so without questioning whether the sacrifice of their own wellbeing is even efficacious to protect the others.  In effect, we are teaching our children to make empty gestures for societal acceptance.  

The New England Journal of Medicine article cited above concluded that widespread use of masks is in fact largely symbolic.  It stated, “Masks are visible reminders of an otherwise invisible yet widely prevalent pathogen and may remind people of the importance of social distancing and other infection-control measures.  It is also clear that masks serve symbolic roles. Masks are not only tools, they are also talismans that may help increase health care workers’ perceived sense of safety, well-being, and trust in their hospitals.”  So we are imposing these onerous restrictions on our children for their symbolic value.  This is not a lesson we want to teach our children.  We want them to think critically, which is a fundamental of a Montessori education.

The psychological impacts could easily grow severe.  At what point do our students simply decide it is too much trouble to try to speak their mind and express their opinions while masked?  How do soft spoken or shy children have their voices heard?  For children suffering anxiety, what is it like to hear disembodied voices coming from behind the masks, with no social cues as to the speaker’s emotions?  At what point do they shut down emotionally because they cannot feasibly interact with their schoolmates?  How quickly does the new child at school give up on trying to make friends? 

We challenge all decisionmakers to wear a mask for a minimum of six hours per day for at least one full work week.  Sit six feet away from your spouse and have a serious conversation about an important issue while both masked.  Prepare your lunch with your mask on, then sit several feet away from another person while you each eat.  Greet someone you have not seen in some time, both masked.  Knock on the door of a new neighbor and introduce yourself; try to make a friend.  Now imagine being three years old, or six, or ten, trying to learn to read, to understand science, to learn algebra, or to connect with peers.

Educational Hindrance

Many parents can easily imagine what a day in a classroom will look like when masks are policed in our children’s classrooms.  Little learning is likely to take place.

Here's how I think requiring masks might work in elementary.

Please don’t snap Billy’s mask in his face.

Your mask is not a necklace, bracelet, or any other form of jewelry.

You should not be using your mask as a slingshot. Please put it back on your face.

Please do not chew on your mask.

Your mask should be on your face, not on the back of your head.

I’m sorry your mask is wet, but that’s what happens when you lick the inside of it.

I’m sorry you sneezed. Here’s a tissue. Wipe out the snot as well as you can.

No, you may not blow your nose in your mask.

Why is your mask soaking wet? You just came back from the bathroom?

And you put it back on your face after you dropped it?

I’m sorry you broke the elastic on your mask by seeing how far the band would stretch. Now you’ll have to hold the mask on your face … or use this duct tape.

Please take the mask off your eyes and watch where you’re walking. I don’t care if you have X-ray vision.

You’re not a pirate, please take your mask off your eye.

Please take the mask off of your pencil and stop twirling it.

I know the mask fits over your pants like a knee pad, but please take it off of your leg and put it on your face.

What do you mean you tried to eat your lunch through your mask?

Please don’t share your mask or trade masks. I don’t care if you like Ingrid’s mask better than yours.

I’m sorry, but your mask is not school appropriate.

We’re not comparing our masks to other kids’ masks… everyone’s mask is unique and special.

No, you may not decorate your mask instead of doing your work. I don’t care if you have a Sharpie.

Try to get the gum off as much as you can.

Please don’t use your mask to pick your nose.

I’m sorry you tripped, but that’s what happens when you put your feet inside the elastic of your mask.

No, your mask doesn’t make it hard to get your work done.

Your Mom will need to get you a new mask since you chewed a hole in that one.

Why is there a shoe print on your mask?

No, you cannot eat the snow through your mask.

Please take those cookies out of your mask. No, you are not a chipmunk.

I don’t care if you were in art class and being creative; we do not decorate our masks.

We do not beam other kids in the face with balls. No, their masks don’t make it not hurt.

Please don’t plug your nose holes with your mask.

Who’s making that noise?

I’m sorry your ponytail is stuck, that’s what happens when you see how many times you can wrap it around your mask.

I’m sorry to tell you, but your child thought her mask made her a superhero. She tried to fly off the jungle gym at recess …

I’m sorry your breath stinks in your mask, maybe we should all try to brush better.

At this point, likely all of us have tried to get our children to wear masks at some point.  There is no doubt that mask wearing leads to more face touching, a lot of arguing, and excessive frustration on all sides.  Behavioral issues will be significant and a tremendous distraction from actual learning. 

These issues also severely undermine any potential medical benefit to the masks.  As the Director-General of the World Health Organization recently said, “People can infect themselves if they use contaminated hands to adjust a mask or repeatedly take it on or off.”  (https://tinyurl.com/ybs2cx29.)  That is exactly what children are going to do.

Consider too what will happen in the normal everyday course of school events.  When a mask is dropped on the ground, is the child expected to pick it up and replace it on her face?  When a child sneezes in the mask, what happens then?  If a mask is forgotten at home, is the child excluded from school?

Any learning which does take place in a masked environment will be difficult.  The importance of seeing a person’s face while learning is well-documented.  (See, for instance, https://tinyurl.com/ya5zlpd4.)  It is also hard to hear a masked person.  Consider whether a child will be able to be heard when they want to speak with a teacher or another student.  Teachers will also struggle to be heard by students.  We recently went grocery shopping with the children and we were all masked; we could barely hear each other.  For children learning to read, they will be unable to see their teacher’s lips move to make certain sounds, and their lips will not be seen for their teachers to guide and correct them.

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The mask policies run the risk of creating all of these social, developmental, and educational difficulties despite the fact that we can be quite certain that there is no actual benefit being derived from the masks. 

We do not go to these extreme measures for other illnesses.  Without getting into the debates over statistics (which are clearly flawed), we would never go to these measures to avoid influenza, chicken pox, or colds.  

The fact is that we have gone far beyond the call to “flatten the curve”, and we now seem to be striving for zero cases of COVID-19 at all costs – even to the severe detriment of our children.  Not only is eradication unreasonable to try to achieve, but our children are not appropriate sacrificial lambs in this endeavor. 

Schools Around the World Opened Without Masks

In other parts of the world, schools have opened without masks.  In Australia, schools have continued or resumed operations, and students are not wearing masks.  (In fact, I have been told that in Canberra, ACT, Australia, no one is wearing a mask anywhere.)  In Canada, some schools re-opened in May, and with the various plans in place, they are not requiring masks.  (For Quebec see https://tinyurl.com/yd52fvwu (stating that “face coverings will be provided to teachers who request them” but no mandate for anyone); for Vancouver, British Columbia see https://tinyurl.com/yd2gykok (no masks required).)

Our community should not implement stricter rules.

Temperature Checks are Unreasonable

Though far less of a safety concern, the policies regarding checking students’ temperatures is unreasonable and do little more than cause undue stress and burden on families. 

This summer, some of our activities have required temperature checks.  We have quickly learned that if we drive to our activity with the car windows down on a warm day, the children will be excluded as having fevers.  Each time we have done that, their temperatures have read 102 degrees or higher.  However, if we drive with the windows up and air conditioning on, we have no issue.  When their temperatures have read above the threshold, we have sat in the car for a few minutes with the air conditioning running and then been re-checked.  They have always been admitted.  They were never sick.

Clearly, the temperature checks give little useful information.  This is why they have been criticized, including by the CDC.  (See, for instance, CDC: White House Proposal for Airport Temperature Checks is Not a Reliable COVID-19 Detection Strategy, Forbes Magazine (available at https://tinyurl.com/y77g887b) (quoting Dr. Martin Cetron, the CDC’s director of global mitigation and quarantine, as writing to the Department of Homeland Security that “Thermal scanning as proposed is a poorly designed control and detection strategy, as we have learned very clearly.”).)

Even though we are certain our children are healthy, it is now quite stressful to arrive at a function where we know their temperatures will be taken.  It causes undue stress on the parents and the children, knowing that a false high reading can mean exclusion from the day’s activities – and thus emergency childcare will be needed for all working parents. 

Also concerning is the possible consequence for a high temperature reading. Will the child be excluded from school for a number of days following that reading?  Will they miss their school time and parents will miss work, all because of a potentially inaccurate reading?  While we agree with the concept of keeping sick children out of school, this has to be handled in a way that applies common sense and an understanding that there are most definitely false readings.

This is Not a Legal Liability Question

We are sensitive to the fact that some school owners will be concerned about potential legal liability flowing from their COVID-19 policies.  We find this concern misplaced.

If a child or staff member at your school contracts COVID-19, school liability for the illness would be far-fetched.  Given what we know about this illness, including its lengthy incubation period, none of us can prove with any reasonable degree of certainty, much less a legal certainty, where we contracted it.

It is far more likely in our view that a school could face liability for forcing a child to wear a mask and that child then becomes ill from lack of oxygen or suffers other detriment.

Requested Action

We urge administrators of our local Montessori schools to revisit plans to require children to wear masks in the upcoming school year.  Please permit but do not require students to wear masks.  Government entities have reversed course on mask policies (such as New Brunswick, Canada, who reversed within one day of requiring masks, https://tinyurl.com/y92d5y7r), and we ask that you do the same.

We also urge you to reconsider temperature checks.

For parents and teachers, we encourage everyone to speak out with their opinions on these critical issues.  Please contact the decision makers at the schools your children will attend in fall.