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Choice to wear masks in school can come down to pimples or public health

I get mask-acne. It’s the worst. Being a teenager is hard enough without the added pimples and having a hot face after playing volleyball at lunch. I hate wearing a mask. But the thing is, it isn’t about me. Wearing a mask at school is about protecting others in my community. Schools should be free to require their communities to wear masks during this global pandemic.  

But where I live that is against the law. The Arizona Legislature passed a law which prohibits schools from requiring masks.* They have left this critical decision up to us teenagers who are understandably more preoccupied with pimples than with public health. I cannot understand how Arizona lawmakers, who are entrusted with the well-being of the people, would take an action that so contradicts that responsibility. 

Tamsin Hurlbut

Wearing a mask is a necessary safety measure, just like many other common-sense regulations. Surely, any responsible adult understands this. For example, it may be your individual choice to have an alcoholic drink. But you can’t also then get behind the wheel. If you do, your decision affects not only you but also the other members of your community on the public roadway. A prohibition against driving while drunk protects everyone in the community. Masks are the same way. It is your own individual decision to not wear a mask, but not when it could endanger others. In any civilized society, there must be restrictions on the individual in order to protect the community. You may really hate wearing a mask. I sure do. But we wear them because we may hurt others if we don’t.  

But there is a difference between driving drunk and not wearing a mask at school. On the highway, you don’t know the people you are endangering. At school, you do. I know which other students have parents with cancer or are too young to get vaccinated.  

They say it takes a village to raise a child. A school is not just a bunch of individuals coexisting. It is a special community of people coming together to learn. We are not strangers. We all know and care about each other, and we depend on one another. A school cannot exist without its teachers, who devote their lives to helping students grow. It cannot not exist without its community of students learning from one another. And it cannot exist without the sometimes invisible staff, from the upper administration to the janitors who clean the bathrooms. School is not about the self, it is about the us. That is why a mask requirement is so important in this special setting. From a young age, we are taught to share, to care about one another, to help a peer who is struggling with a math problem, or to open the door for a teacher carrying her books. Wearing a mask is showing that you care, it is saying, I will wear this horrible mask because I value you. 

Arizona lawmakers–indeed lawmakers around our entire nation– should recognize this. The job of elected officials is to represent their constituents, and that means, in this case, to protect them. They should not elevate the selfish and reckless “freedoms” that a minority of individuals demand. We the students at Arizona schools–and at K-12 schools everywhere–have no ability to vote, no say in elections, yet we are the people affected by this crazy law. Consider our health, and the health of the community. Rethink your decision to tie the hands of our schools. Reverse your ban of mask mandates.  

When it comes to the children and schools of Arizona, our lawmakers have a lot to atone for. They say that this is about our “freedom.” Why did they leave us confined in our bedrooms for online school while they hurried to open bars and restaurants with no restrictions? That was when we wanted our freedom.  

Unlike online school, masks do not hinder learning, heighten teen suicide, or make disadvantaged students fall behind. But the Governor and Legislature seemed much less concerned about helping schools open back then than they are about imposing mask restrictions now. Indeed, last year the Legislature did almost nothing to help schools open safely in person. They couldn’t even be bothered to change a law that provided less money per student when instruction is online, so when schools went remote they lost vital funding when they needed it most. Lawmakers even ended the legislative session early because they were afraid of getting Covid. Changing this law would require them to return from their vacations for a special legislative session. What a great opportunity for our lawmakers to redeem themselves.   

Tamsin Hurlbut is a 14-year old sophomore at Tempe Preparatory Academy in Tempe, Arizona. 

*Editor’s note: A Maricopa County Superior Court judge has found the law to be unconstitutional and that decision is on appeal with the Arizona Supreme Court as of Oct. 1, 2021.  

 

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