By Nikki Hudson
Pittsboro, NC – The following letter was submitted to the Chatham County School board for their Monday, February 14 meeting.
Dear Chatham County School Board,
My name is Nikki Hudson, and I am a parent of a 6th grader at Margaret B. Pollard Middle School and a 2nd grader at North Chatham Elementary. I am reaching out to ask you to please remove the mask mandate in our schools.
The benefits of masks in preventing severe illness or death from COVID-19 among children are infinitesimally small. At the same time, they are disruptive to learning and communicating in classrooms. They may be partially effective in shielding adults from COVID, but when is it ethical to burden children to benefit adults? Today, adults have no reason to put their safety ahead of the well-being of school kids. Vaccinations effectively keep adults out of the hospital and even better at preventing death. A healthy, fully vaccinated teacher is close to impervious to threats posed by COVID-19 spread in the classroom. By now, every teacher in America has been offered the vaccine; many were in the priority group, even above vulnerable older people.
COVID-19 is less of a threat to children than accidents or the common flu. The survival rate among American children with confirmed cases is approximately 99.99%; remarkably, recent studies find an even higher survival rate. Like the teachers, every school-age child is also eligible for a vaccine if their family chooses to get them one.
The long-term harm to kids from masking is potentially enormous. Masking is a psychological stressor for children and disrupts learning. Covering the lower half of the face of both teacher and pupil reduces the ability to communicate. In particular, children lose the experience of mimicking expressions, an essential nonverbal communication tool. Positive emotions such as laughing and smiling become less recognizable, and negative emotions get amplified. Bonding between teachers and students takes a hit. Overall, masking likely exacerbates the chances that a child will experience anxiety and depression, which are already at pandemic levels themselves.
Other countries, like Ireland, announced that it won’t require masks in schools because they “may exacerbate anxiety or breathing difficulties for some students.” Some children compensate for such difficulties by breathing through their mouths. Chronic and prolonged mouth breathing can alter facial development. It is well-documented that mouth-breathe children can develop mouth deformities and elongated faces because adenoids block their nasal airways.
The possible psychological harm of widespread masking is an even greater worry. Facial expressions are integral to human connection, particularly for young children, who only learn to signal fear, confusion, and happiness. Covering a child’s face mutes these nonverbal forms of communication and can result in robotic and emotionless interactions, anxiety, and depression. Seeing people speak is a building block of phonetic development. It is essential for children with disabilities such as hearing impairment. Children begin to recognize basic emotions – happiness, sadness, fear, anger, and so on – from as early as ten months of age, with development peaking around five or six years, says Kang Lee, a developmental psychologist at the University of Toronto. Being able to see faces in their entirety is a vital part of such development, and masking can hinder that process; he says: “We learn emotions mostly through the face.”
The one potentially greater area of concern may be the impact of masks on children’s language development. It is part of our North Carolina curriculum that children learn through observation. They look at the movement of the mouth and see the lips and tongue move. T tongue placement is essential if you think about the “’th” sound.
The situation for children with special needs is even more significant, says Stephen Camarata, a hearing and speech sciences professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee who works extensively with such kids. “Children with disabilities, especially hearing loss, use facial features to fill in the information they’re not hearing,” he says. “They really need that visual information to understand what you’re saying. With masks on, they’re just not getting access to those cues.” He also expects masks to generally make it harder for young children to learn new words: “In the short term, in terms of comprehending new words and vocabulary, [masks are] going to have an attenuating effect.”
If all of these reasons are not enough, masks are being used by our schools to impact students’ access to vital nutrition throughout. Children are given 10 minutes to eat their lunch on a good day and are no longer given access to snack time in between. According to the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “children and teens need to eat every three to four hours throughout the day to fuel their growing, active bodies and meet their MyPlate daily food plan. This translates into the following:
- Younger kids need to eat three meals and at least two snacks a day.
- Older kids need to eat three meals and at least one snack a day (they may need two snacks if they’re going through a growth spurt or if they are very physically active).”
Ironically, this is the recognized source of truth for all of North Carolina schools, and yet we are ignoring it for “masking.” This is leading to undernourished children and is exacerbating eating disorder behavior in others.
I hope you will vote today to remove the mask mandate to decide as parents what is best for our family.