Soon after he took office in mid-January, Gov. Glenn Youngkin started to make good on his promises to Virginia parents by issuing an executive order forbidding mask mandates in schools. Predictably, this common-sense effort to dismantle the COVID powers of his state’s educational establishment met serious resistance, most notably in the deep-blue counties of Northern Virginia, where well-funded school districts challenged Youngkin’s order in court.
About two weeks later, we started to see governors and legislators in blue states finally “see the light” when it came to the value of such mandates. The liberal media dutifully ignored its previous condemnation of similar moves in Florida and elsewhere to praise how these states were “learning to live with the virus.”
The political calculus in this situation is obvious: the midterms are coming, and the Democrats have to repair their reputations after over two years of advocating oppressive COVID-related restrictions and ineffective lockdowns. Yet in their new policies, several blue states have carved out specific exceptions for government schools. Why?
A recent Washington Post article attempts to explain this paradox by parroting lawmakers’ arguments that “schools are different from the rest of society.” Gov. J. B. Pritzker of Illinois said, “Schools just need a little more time … for our youngest learners to become vaccine-eligible and for more parents to get their kids vaccinated.” Gov. Gavin Newsom of California also cited vaccination concerns and his “delicate negotiations” with local school boards, “labor leaders” (aka teachers unions), and parents. Meanwhile, their colleague Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York promised to revisit the question in early March, reminding us that in schools, kids “are in a very concentrated setting…. And also, adults can make their own decisions. Children still need adults to look out for their health.”
Such arguments fly in the face of what science currently tells us about the coronavirus. We’ve known for months that vaccination and boosters do not fully protect people from either contracting or spreading the virus. Scientists have also recently admitted that the ubiquitous cloth and paper masks are little more than talismans that signal that the wearer “takes the virus seriously.” So, unless each school-age child in these states is going to be issued a consistent supply of N95 or KN95 masks, these mandates will not substantially protect anyone in these schools. On top of this, there remains the fact that school-age children remain the least likely among all age groups to contract or suffer horribly from the virus in the first place.
One mother noted in an interview what many have concluded: “I think the mask symbolizes control now.”
The real reason behind this reticence to liberate schools alongside the rest of society lies in the fact that California, New York, and Illinois are also the homes of the three largest public school districts in the nation. As such, the educational establishment has considerable power in these states, power that it has purchased (according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Institute) through massive outlays of cash to Democratic politicians and liberal activist groups. Teachers unions, the chief bullies of the establishment, have demanded that students remain masked despite the evidence that these policies psychologically harm children. So, although there is no scientific basis to maintain the mask mandates in schools, there is a compelling political interest for these lawmakers to do so.
Elsewhere, I have characterized the American educational establishment as an authoritarian regime bent on protecting its own social and cultural power at all costs. The current call for mask mandates to remain in government schools represents the educrats’ latest effort to flex their political muscle to the detriment of the students and families that these schools pretend to serve.
This flexing comes at a critical moment in the regime’s history. Ever since schools embraced remote learning in 2020, parents were able to peek behind the curtain and see what was actually going on in government schools. They converted their anger at what they discovered into action by speaking out at school board meetings and engaging in other grassroots activities. Their objective was to hold the regime accountable and protect their children.
The educrats’ response to this threat to their authority was as varied as it was overbearing. They engaged in procedural legerdemain and colluded with their allies in social media to silence concerned parents. Meanwhile, teachers unions called on their political lackeys at the state and federal levels to extend and expand restrictions in an already stifling environment. These politicians brazenly rejected the notion that parents have any role in deciding what their children learn. Finally, the educrats smeared their opponents as “domestic terrorists” and ordered law enforcement officials to treat them accordingly.
No longer content with targeting adults, the educational establishment is now targeting the children whom they claim to be protecting. Earlier this month, Loudoun County Public Schools, which has been at the center of the national debate over educational policy, suspended 29 students for their refusal to obey the district’s mask mandate. Similar suspensions have happened in neighboring Fairfax County as well, where one mother noted in an interview what many have concluded: “I think the mask symbolizes control now.”
But the educrats’ losses in this war for control have been stark. The number of homeschooling families in America has tripled since 2019. School board meetings are now the subject of both local and national news coverage, and school board recall elections are becoming more common. The issue of public education flipped the Virginia gubernatorial election on its head and brought Youngkin an unexpected victory.
These powerful blows have rocked the educational establishment, leaving it desperate to salvage whatever power it has left. Like the petty dictators they are, the educrats seek to reestablish their control over students and parents through mask mandates that they know have little actual value. As the rest of the country gets back to business as usual, we should refuse to allow them to continue to hold our children hostage.