In a time of crisis, elected officials should enact policies grounded in fact and act in the best interest of their constituents. However, when it comes to COVID-19 and masks, some governors have been doing anything but. As the United States struggles with the highly contagious delta variant, and thousands of students around the country have been quarantined for exposure to COVID-19, many Republican Party governors are fighting against common-sense policies that would slow the spread of the pandemic.
Despite the dangerous expansion of the delta variant and its pronounced impact on children, many Republican governors have worked to ban mask mandates in K-12 schools. Several prominent conservative governors have used their positions to push anti-mask and anti-vaccine policies, despite the clear danger of their actions. These ludicrous policies have forced local school boards to take matters into their own hands to protect their students.
One of the worst governors on this front has been Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla. DeSantis has worked to position himself for a likely presidential run in 2024. Through his position as governor of Florida, DeSantis has worked to cultivate an image as an advocate for personal freedom, regardless of one’s impact on public health.
One of Gov. DeSantis’s recent actions has been to ban mask mandates in Florida schools. He has taken the steps despite the fact that students under 12 years old are too young to be vaccinated. DeSantis has argued that whether a child wears a mask should be left up to their parents. The consequences have been severe. Within just the first week of school in Florida, thousands of students were put into isolation and quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure.
The governor has even gone as far as to threaten to cut certain funding from school districts that attempt to implement vaccine mandates, a move that could potentially cost school districts thousands of dollars.
Other Republican governors in states such as Arizona and Arkansas have also implemented these mandates despite opposition from local school districts. In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey has barred school districts that require masks from accessing $163 million in virus relief money. He also created a program in which parents could receive $7,000 per child to send their children to a private school if their district mandates masks or goes into quarantine.
Arkansas is a frustrating example of the danger in banning mask mandates. In May, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., signed a law banning mask mandates in the state. Soon after this, the highly contagious delta variant reached Arkansas. With only 40% of the state fully vaccinated, the delta variant spread quickly, overwhelming hospitals. Gov. Hutchinson has admitted that the decision to ban mask mandates in the state has hindered the state’s ability to combat the delta variant.
In response to the actions of their governors, some school boards have stepped up and taken action into their own hands. In Florida, multiple school districts have instituted mask mandates, despite the threat of lost funding. In Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott has attempted to ban mask mandates, school officials have attempted to use a loophole in the law to add masks to the dress code and limit the governor’s authority.
Facing a deadly new chapter of the pandemic, these school districts across the country have stood up for what is right. They have recognized that masking kids in schools help to protect them against this deadly virus. They have also recognized that too many Republican politicians are playing politics with the lives of children.
The actions of these school boards underscore the importance of an often overlooked entity. In most states, school board members are elected officials. They have purview over many significant aspects of education and can be important advocates for their district in times like these. However, despite their importance and direct impact on the community, school board elections are often overlooked and usually have extremely low voter turnout.
Yet, in times of crisis like right now, we now see how important it is to have school board members who are not afraid to stand up in order to protect their students and ensure that public health trumps political pressure.
Isabelle Schinder is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.