Students caught in middle of polarizing mask debate

mask debate
Posted at 10:58 PM, Jan 24, 2022

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. – The mask debate is still a hot topic at school board meetings.

“If your mask works, let it be optional; leave the rest of us alone,” said Newport News Public Schools parent Alex Hazelwood.

Mary Vause is a NNPS teacher and mother to a first and fifth grader in the school system.

“Youngkins’s executive order is out of order,” Vause said.

Despite Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R-Virginia) executive order to make masks optional in schools, many districts, including Newport News Public Schools, have decided to keep them mandatory.

Some parents argue the move is a detriment to their child’s education and overall health.

“I’ve read several other studies that show there are absolutely adverse effects to wearing a mask, especially eight hours a day,” said Hazelwood.

At Gloucester County Public Schools – where students have the choice to mask up – some parents are relieved. Ashley Kemnitz, a Gloucester mother of two school-aged daughters, argued that with covered faces, kids are missing facial cues for social development.

“Children need to see each other's faces and their teachers' faces in order to develop speech, expression and emotional connections,” Kemnitz said.

Others say masks help keep people safe.

“They have a right to have a basic CDC mitigation strategy like masking in place in order to slow the transmission of a potentially deadly disease,” said Vause.

The constant back and forth is putting kids in the middle of a polarizing, and at times, political issue.

“It can kind of be hard to go to school in general, but masks need to be here,” said 11th grade NNPS student KeShauna Cottle.

Mark Bear has three kids at Newport News schools.

“They should be allowed to come to school and not be frowned upon,” said Bear.

Dr. Cassandra Newby-Alexander is a dean for Norfolk State’s Liberal Arts school, which includes psychology.

“Children have been dealing with bullies for as long as human beings have been on this planet, and so this situation is no different than any other bullying situation,” said Dr. Newby-Alexander, NSU Dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

Dr. Newby-Alexander suggests parents have a conversation with their child, empowering them to speak up.

“Simply say, 'Just as you have chosen to exercise your freedom this way, I've chosen to exercise my freedom by wearing a mask,'” she said. “'If you have a problem with me exercising my freedom, I then have a problem with you exercising your freedom.'”

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