A ten-year-old pupil in Florida has delivered an impassioned plea to his local school board to lift their face mask mandate, describing the headaches and claustrophobia the masks induced and saying they gave him anxiety.
The fourth grader at Felix A. Williams Elementary in the town of Stuart, 40 miles north of West Palm Beach, spoke before the Martin County school board on May 12.
Known only as John, the little boy said that he was ‘surprised by the rules’.
‘A lot of them didn’t make any sense to me like the fact that we’re not allowed to play on the playground or have student council or turn to face each other at lunch.
‘And we also have to wear masks outside at P.E. and on track.’
John, aged 10, addressed the Martin County officials during a board meeting to discuss masks
Under the district’s current policy, students are required to wear masks on school campuses and school buses, with the only exceptions being when they’re eating and drinking or during recess and physical education – suggesting John’s school was going beyond the recommendations.
The state of Florida removed its mask mandate on May 3.
Ron DeSantis, the governor, had already removed statewide restaurant capacity restrictions in September 2020 – although many businesses imposed or held onto restrictions since then.
The 10-year-old said wearing a face mask gave him headaches and made him anxious
School districts have been free to make their own decisions.
Okeechobee County school district has made face masks optional, but recommended, while Indian River County school district is keeping their mask mandate for now.
John begged Martin County to remove the mask mandate in his school.
‘I miss seeing people’s faces,’ he said.
‘I miss the way things used to be. I’m scared they’ll never go back to normal.
‘Breathing freely doesn’t seem like something we should have to ask any other people for permission for.
He said that he often saw his teachers flouting the rules, and yet he and his fellow students had their names taken if they were not wearing their masks correctly. One teacher berated students for lowering their masks to sip water.
‘It seems unfair that teachers take their masks off while they yell at us kids, and we need to pull ours up,’ he complained.
‘I asked my mom if there’s a word for this and she said there is – hypocrisy.’
Felix A. Williams Elementary School in Stuart, Florida – where John is a student
Protesters in Tampa, Florida, protest against face masks in school on Tuesday
People protest against the school mask mandate in Tampa on Tuesday
Parents on Tuesday are seen awaiting Hillsborough County School Board meeting in Tampa
John told the group during the session – which lasted for several hours, with parents, teachers and health experts all giving their views – that wearing a mask in class made him ill.
He said he had allergies, and felt it was unfair that his asthmatic teacher was given permission not to wear her mask.
She did not even recognize him when they met outside school, he said.
‘Wearing a mask all day makes me feel really tired and gives me really bad headaches. Sometimes I’m at school and I need to lay low in the dark until they’re gone,’ he said.
‘My mask also sticks to my face when it’s hot and it makes it hard to breathe. I feel like I can’t catch my breath and that makes me feel claustrophobic and anxious. It’s really stressful.’
The wearing of face masks in classrooms has become a source of debate among many
Parents in Los Angeles protest on March 1 against the closure of their children’s schools
Rachel Meier, who has children within the district, told TCPalm that the decision should be left to parents.
‘We’re out here trying to be heard in saying we don’t want our kids masked anymore,’ she said.
‘It’s our right as a parent to decide what to do with our child when it comes to their health.’
The chair of the board, Marsha Powers, said the decision was not about individual students but rather the school district community, which includes teachers, custodians and bus drivers.
‘I’m tired of masks, too, but I wear my mask out of respect for those who are fearful,’ she said.
‘As a School Board member, we have to look out for the entirety of the people that we serve.’
Dr Cheryl Jordan, chairman of medicine at Cleveland Clinic spoke in favor of keeping the mask mandate until the end of term.
‘Facts are, masks do slow down the transmission,’ she said.
‘The risk does raise linearly with the age and grade of the child.’
The school board ultimately voted 4-1 to keep the mask mandate in place until June 1, when term ends.
The following day, on May 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revoked its recommendations for wearing face masks indoors and out.
Face masks in schools have become a flashpoint for communities across the country – in addition to the broader issue of home schooling.
Parents are seen protesting on March 1 at an ‘Open Schools Now!’ demonstration in LA
Almost all students have had remote learning at some point over the past year, but different states have taken dramatically different approaches to reopening classrooms.
Parents have been frequently begging schools to reopen, given the challenges of juggling work with home schooling, and the mental health impact for their children of being isolated.
On Monday the governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, announced that New Jersey schools will be required to reopen this fall on a full-time in-person basis – without remote learning as an option.
Some other states are considering whether to continue to offer remote learning, a spokesperson at the National Association of State Boards of Education said.
In Connecticut, the state has informed school districts that they won’t be required to offer remote learning, but didn’t bar them from offering it.
Many school districts are currently bouncing between remote and in-person, owing to COVID outbreaks closing classrooms.
And in the past week alone, parents from Alabama to Iowa and Wisconsin have staged protests, calling for the repeal of mask mandates.
Among the most bitter rows have been those in San Francisco, where schools are still operating remotely.
Parents have reacted in fury to the school board, and called for their resignation.
Fewer than half the district’s students are currently back in classrooms, and the district has pledged to reopen full time for all students in the fall, but labor and facilities issues could prevent that.
They are now searching for a consultant to help guide schools with the return to classrooms.
Meanwhile, the district’s enrollment has dropped, with frustrated families moving outside the city or to private schools.
Officials are worried about losing more families — which would further hurt the budget — without a robust fall plan.