I am writing to bring attention to the fact that our public school district is using COVID as a method to constantly punish our children, and it is making lives worse. With three children across the elementary and middle schools I have witnessed first-hand the mental toll that masking and other COVID protocols are taking on our children, and the cultural deterioration it’s caused in the school.

COVID is here to stay, thankfully in much weaker form. We have no choice but to learn to live with it, and in doing so we need to give the option of how to best care for our families back to the families. Vaccines that are extremely effective at reducing risks but are mostly ineffective at reducing transmission are available for those who want them. If people feel better wearing a mask – by all means, wear one. However, dictating certain COVID protocols punishes those that have the weakest voice — our children — while providing little-if-any benefits, and certainly none that are measurable.

Neither the school nor the county health director have made any case, let alone a convincing one that stands up to even a modest amount of rigor, why these mandates are required. Their position has become undeniably illogical as COVID has erupted in San Miguel County despite mandates, yet COVID is far less serious than before. Couple that with the fact that the adults who make these decisions can go about their lives avoiding masks and other COVID protocols, but our children cannot. Our children must attend school for 35 hours per week and are punished, admonished, shamed, and sent to the principal for not wearing their mask correctly or for taking their masks down for a moment to breathe. This is now taking place outside at recess, with the vague notion that should the county health director deem it acceptable — based on what criteria or logic nobody knows — this updated protocol may go away.

Mental health is suffering, academics are deteriorating, and behavior has gotten worse. The one place outside of our homes that our children should feel safe and comfortable going to has become a place of punishment, dread and extreme anxiety, with the school now believing it’s prudent to resort to ambiguous and incessant threats for non-compliance, from the moment students enter until the moment they leave. For all the problems these policies have created, what have they accomplished? The honest answer is nothing, as COVID has exploded through the school and community anyway. What else needs to happen to simply admit the obvious that this isn’t working?

Finally, our school board and county health director have shown essentially zero interest for actual data on this subject, which has left them with no logical process for ending these demonstrably ineffective policies. Instead, they are stuck in an eddy of reactionism regardless of facts and circumstances. I ask these people, “When and how will this end?” — they can’t tell me. This lack of careful thought and realistic planning is unacceptable for our children and our community.

Stop the masking, stop the irrational fear over COVID. As a community we need to move on and put our children first.

Cate White