During their annual conference, the National Education Association, America’s largest teachers’ union, announced they are working toward implementing “mandatory masking and COVID vaccines in schools.” More than two years into the pandemic, this decision would wrongfully hinder children’s ability to effectively participate in school activities and lacks evidence to rightfully carry out this policy.
Children attend school during a crucial period of their cognitive and social development. As they learn to process thought, to properly communicate with their classmates and teachers, and to advance their cognitive development through various means of social interaction, they should be allowed to evolve naturally. Masks, as we all know, get in the way.
Researchers from Brown University found a 23% fall off in children’s ability to communicate, mainly associated with COVID-induced mask mandates. Doctors involved in studying the children’s cognitive development noted that “masks worn in public settings and in school or daycare settings may impact a range of early developing skills.” This study isn’t an outlier. The same conclusions are widely accepted by speech pathologist experts.
During the pandemic, Jaclyn Theek, clinic director and speech-language pathologist at the Speech and Learning Institute in Florida, saw a 364% spike in patients that were babies and children in their childhood years.
“It’s very important that kids do see your face to learn, so they’re watching your mouth,” Theek said in an interview with a local news channel.
Laura Moncada, Director of Early Intervention Program at Easter Seals North Georgia, also noted that her clinic has seen an influx of children enroll in speech pathology classes to help them recover their speech abilities. “We have seen an increase in speech and language delays since COVID hit,” Moncada said. “A lot of it could be language delays, and some of it’s social interaction delays that we’re seeing now.”
Even as fear-mongering towards universally masking children continues, countless studies, supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, back the strong importance of infants seeing their caretakers’ faces and mannerisms.
Yet CDC guidance on school masking, which has fluctuated a lot since the beginning of the pandemic, today recommends “universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.”
So why have several European countries detached from this direction? The U.K., Norway, and Denmark—among a multitude of others—use the World Health Organization’s advice that does not recommend masking children 11 and younger because of the extremely microscopic risk of illness and the potential impact on “learning and psychosocial development.”
For some perspective on children’s little-to-no risk of developing severe illness from COVID, consider the largest controlled survey of children who test positive for COVID. Researchers from Denmark found that out of the 37,000 children surveyed who tested positive for the virus, a rare 0.8% reported symptoms lasting more than 4 weeks with the remaining vast majority recovering in a short period of time, all but another piece of evidence absolving children from developing “long covid.” The study noted that just 0.08% of children infected with COVID required hospitalization and only 0.17 per 100,000 population worldwide.
California’s very own Department of Public Health advised in 2018 that “children should not wear [N95] masks,” noting that “they do not fit properly and can impede breathing.” Parents across the U.S. have been left out of decisions that affect their children and, worse, now face harsher COVID boundaries that will affect their children—by a virus that poses virtually no threat to young children.
The NEA should stop ignoring hard data and let their students thrive during the prime years of their childhood instead of implementing such cruel measures by rescinding these mandates immediately. It’s time to let kids loose of their masks and not enforce a wrongful vaccine mandate for the incoming school year.