Hornblas: Masks in schools…again?

A Back-to-School Update

A fifth-grade student adjusts her mask during an outdoor class.
Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

by Amy Hornblas

Newark Street Elementary School in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, which required masks last year in certain classrooms and settings, has assured families that it will not be requiring masks again this year.

While this news is reassuring to some, the school still appears to be completely unaware of their responsibility to protect those in its care, as their newsletter chillingly explains:

“The overwhelming majority of this community masked without complaints and without questions.  Many of you did this with compassion and without having comprehension of why. Compassion without comprehension might be one of the strongest mindsets of humanity. And so many of you found your way to that place.  I am in awe of those who did.”

– Newark Street School Newsletter, Newt Newsletter, August, 2023

It is truly awe-inspiring that this is the role schools are proud to play now: encouraging students to “find their way to a place” where they are able to silently suffer, and remain in ignorance. 

Ignorance is ignoring one’s legal and moral responsibility. There are several risk factors and hazards to consider when one restricts breathing and covers the face. In this case, it is crucial that anybody who is wearing a respirator, such as an N95 or dustmask, is properly supervised, and there are numerous regulations in place to protect workers who wear them.   

As the CDC explains to employers:

“Supervisors and hospital management can minimize the physiological burden of PPE [N95’s and other respiratory protection] by instituting policies and procedures to assure breaks for [health care workers], encouraging front-line supervisors to check in regularly with staff to assess for symptoms or concerns, and providing a mechanism to report symptoms immediately and without fear of penalty.”

Centers for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health:  The Physiological Burden of Prolonged PPE Use on Healthcare Workers during Long Shifts

Providing proper supervision is a crucial part of the OSHA regulations, whether the use is voluntary or not. Proper supervision includes paying careful attention to the symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, chest and stomach pain, tingling and dizziness, and the supervisor’s skill, and willingness, to address those issues immediately.  

School administrators have been hearing these very same complaints from students and staff required to wear face masks all throughout the past three years. We have evidence that as soon as students returned to school in the fall of 2020, at least one student in the state went to the emergency room to receive treatment for harm caused by wearing masks at school, kitchen staff were complaining of difficulty breathing, and students and staff were withdrawing from school due to the mask requirements.

The Feds are Coming, the Feds are Coming!

In the spring of 2022 Vermont’s governor, Health Commissioner, and the Secretary of Education advised schools in the state to drop their school mask requirements, citing student mental health and communication concerns.

Most schools happily complied, as smiling faces finally breathed freely in classrooms across the state.  However, a couple of schools chose to continue enforcing mask requirements, and that spring Secretary French sent an email to one of the principals encouraging them to listen to the health department’s advice.  

French’s email to the principal made it into the hands of the mainstream press, and apparently the Feds heard about it…

While the Federal government seems completely uninterested in the fact that OSHA standards are being ignored, that children are complaining that they can’t breath under their masks, that “every mask you’ve ever seen on a child is unregulated, untested, and unsafe” and Vermont’s Agency of Education has admitted they have no evidence masks are safe on which to base their policy, evidently their ears did perk up when they heard about what Secretary French told that school.  

This fall the U.S. Department of Education decided to investigate Vermont’s education secretary for discouraging the use of masks.

It is clear that “suggestions” and “investigations” by the federal government are not legally binding. However, the story of French’s email and the ensuing federal investigation were echoed across VT Digger and the nightly news, making the message loud and clear to school boards across the state: 

 “Watch Out!  If you stand in the way of mask mandates in your schools, the Feds will get you!”  

Everyone knows what that means.  Think of all that federal funding your school gets, especially special education funding, which these new mask requirements are based on. Schools are meant to feel like they have no choice but to comply with the masking and “other protection measures” going forward, or else risk “being investigated.”

How much influence the feds have in our state, compared with families, students, and teachers who simply need to breathe, is up to us.  

Why are we not providing proper supervision to children and vulnerable adults in schools and other community settings? Why, instead, do we seem to be penalizing those who complain and praising those who don’t? Why has this yet to become an agenda item, and a public conversation allowed at any level of state government?

First we have to acknowledge that asking children not to complain when they are hurting, and criticizing parents for asking questions, is a recipe for disaster- not compassion. 

We also need to stand by Secretary French, the Vermont Agency of Education, and our local school boards when they decide to protect students, and acknowledge the harms of masking. 

A transparent cost/benefit analysis of the harms and benefits of masking needs to be put on the agenda for discussion at the local and state level. Allowing the discussion will provide the support that these decision-makers need to justify their concerns about masking, and acknowledges those who are suffering an unknown amount of harm- and told to keep quiet about it.

Hornblas is author of The Vermont Mask Survey.

8 replies »

  1. Wearing a mask to stop any virus is like trying to stop mosquitos with a chain link fence. they simply don’t work for stopping any virus, either coming in or going out. And of course, most people know now the side effects, both physical and psychological, that arise due to wearing a mask.

    Not to mention that nowhere in the US Constitution or Bill of Rights does it say that any right is in effect only until some spineless political hack issues an “executive order” or “mandate”. Nope. Sorry. It’s just not there.

    And most of us know all this, but the solution is simple. If people want to wear masks and get one or more genetic modification shots because they think it does something for them, fine, let them wear masks and get jabbed as often as they please. The rest of us, of course, have the same right not to wear masks or get jabbed.

    What do both scenarios have in common? 1. Free will 2. The right to make one’s own decisions regarding his or her health.

    Kinda sounds like what our nation was founded on, doesn’t it? And what have we devolved into? A nation where our individual employers, our EMPLOYERS, can dictate our heath decisions. Sad. Pathetically sad.

    We are truly well down the road to becoming a socialist Banana Republic.

  2. Now just wait a minute. Maybe there’s a golden lining to this intrusion. The ever more aggressive cloud of administrative rule is igniting our underground impulses. Incognito currier’s to communicate between underground cell will will surely be needed soon. We may see the emergence of Green Pimpernel to protect the persecuted. Folks will need to be alerted as matters get worse. What better asset to add to the resistance than young masked Green Mountain Kids touch with their inner pirate/smuggler/patriot.

  3. The best analysis of effectiveness/ineffectiveness is the Cochrane database —-

    Masks are very unlikely to prevent spread of the virus and it is especially egregious to subject young children to their use. If you read this study you will see how so many of the touted studies are biased esp for not ever looking at the downside harms of mask use and again esp in children.

  4. Covid barely even affects children, even before it mutated into a common cold, and almost all of the children it did harm had not just one, but multiple comorbidities. Healthy children had and still have an almost zero chance of hospitalization or death. Masking causes more harm than covid for most, but especially children. Enough.

  5. We demand that our Misty Knoll chicken be organic, no anti biotics, no vaccines,
    but we drug our children.

    It’s not just a mrna experimental drug that doesn’t protect them, it’s in the constitution that they can drug your child without your permission. Then there is Big Pharma, hey, kiddie cocaine, more drugs, jack’em up with sugar first thing. Give them cancer causing food on top of that.

    Our children are NOT safe in Vermont schools, or Vermont for that matter.

    Vermonters’ here is your sign, Montpelier does not love your or your family.

  6. See Dr Mercola’s article on masks. You’re keeping the expelled CO2 consistently in the air passages and lungs. This is more harmful to a child’s air passages, heart and brain. We test for high levels of CO2 in buildings and classrooms but we expect kids to breathe it in and out at higher levels, dangerous levels in a mask. Get rid of the masks!! Go get some Ivermectin/ hydroxychloroquine and CBD and stop freaking out!