An Open Letter to the School Boards of Huntington Township:
Dear School Board Member,
I write today, as a Huntington area resident, pediatrician, and healthcare leader, to urge our school boards to endorse and adopt each of the measures contained in the recent guidance documents authored by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the additional recommendations proposed by AAP Chapter 2.
Although every one of these guidelines contributes to the safety and well-being of our students, two items serve as cornerstones for preventing avoidable illness, permanent harm and death due to COVID-19:
- Universal masking for children greater than 2 years of age and all school employees, regardless of immunization status.
- Ongoing effort to encourage immunization for all eligible individuals, and for persons and families with questions to address these with a trusted and knowledgeable healthcare professional.
Here is why this is so important. The best studies to date tell us that transmission in school settings can be mitigated with the combination of distancing and masks. In fact, when masks are used consistently, distancing can be safely reduced from 6 feet to 3 feet. As important, other studies have documented significant school outbreaks when masking does not occur. (In one such case, 2 infected students resulted in 153 infections.)
As noted recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “compelling data now demonstrate that community mask wearing is an effective nonpharmacologic intervention to reduce the spread of [COVID-19] infection, especially as source control to prevent spread from infected persons, but also as protection to reduce wearers’ exposure to infection” (Brooks and Butler, JAMA, March 9, 2021).
There are those who have opposed mask mandates in the past and will continue to do so. It is our strong view that, while all perspectives deserve a fair hearing, the personal feelings of vocal opponents should not outweigh the consensus of national experts and the support of most citizens.
As human beings navigating this grueling pandemic, it is natural that we will experience frustration, fatigue, sadness, fear and even anger. Some will try to blame their leaders, including school boards, for imposing measures that are necessary to promote the best interest of all. Those individuals will make claims predicated on notions of individual rights. To be clear, all laws and regulations impinge on personal rights; this fact is at the heart of the social contract and is not in question. The real questions are these: first, which personal right is more worthy of protection: my right to decide if my child will or will not wear a mask…or my neighbor’s right to a school environment in which reasonable measures protect children and families from a potentially fatal infection?
A second question follows inevitably from the first: how can a school board best execute its fiduciary obligation to act in the best interest of the school, its students, its families and the community? I have had the honor of leading a bioethics consultation service in our hospital for almost two decades. Competing moral claims are the basis for almost every conflict we are asked to mediate. The goal is to identify the best solution when all solutions are imperfect. I think this issue is no different. However, if we recognize this to be a choice between accepting frustration from reluctant mask wearers, on the one hand, and implementing policies which risk the health and very lives of students, families and staff, on the other, I believe the Board’s best decision becomes clear.
Thank you for the work you do, and thank you for considering these recommendations.
Very truly yours,
Michael B Grosso, MD, FAAP
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
Hofstra – Northwell School of Medicine