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It must be heartening for our anti-mask crowd to see this school year unfold according to the non-factual opinions freely expressed at our latest meetings, in emails, and on Social Media:  Most students and staff were not masked for school’s start, despite our written School Board policy to "strongly encourage" masking.  

Kids have been uniformly encouraged at school not to mask, and now that we are under the governor’s mandate some are being given an easy way to opt out, and our administration seems fine with that. We have had several COVID-19 cases, as well as RSV outbreaks; many people in our schools are quarantined now.

Anti-mask opinions have been elevated by Mr. Wes Mills, our School Board chair, while public health experts’ recommendations on how we can still have school together in person during the pandemic have been brushed aside in favor of a very specific and nihilist idea of "personal freedom.” Our Chair has twice at public meetings negated the existence of school families and long time supporters of our schools who have contacted the full Board pleading for us to follow public health advice as our best chance at keeping our schools open and our community well. 

Those in favor of masks were, understandably, not present to raise their hands pro-masking at our mostly unmasked public meetings (if you understand the logic of mask wearing to reduce exposure, you know that without others protecting you by wearing a mask, you are vulnerable even if masked — you might have heard the saying: my mask protects you, your mask protects me).

Part of my role on the School Board is to represent all my constituents, not to silence them. As a public school, the Virginia Department of Health is supposed to be our public health playbook and we have ultimate responsibility for our students’ safety. We did a good job at that last year, when partisan politics were set aside and we united for the good of the kids. 

In my work as a market farmer, I wear a mask for many hours straight at our weekly markets, and have stayed well. I wash masks and put them out in the sun regularly, and have experienced no mold poisoning or CO2 buildup. I do know people who have lost loved ones from COVID-19, and it's a small inconvenience that could save someone else from that terrible pandemic outcome. 

I will continue masking in public indoor spaces or crowds and align my behavior with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines until the pandemic is over. Thank you for respecting my choices, as I will respect yours, though masked and from a distance. I am a grown up person, and will not be bullied into dismissing the truth.

I hope that we can all — adults as well as kids — learn something about the meaning of community and the importance of working based on factual information from what is unfolding around us. We need to sharpen our critical thinking skills and evaluate health claims before believing them.

If we honestly look back at last year and realize that it wasn't masks, it was living during a pandemic that made most of us feel sad and uneasy. Anti-mask sentiments based on untrue claims still being spread have taken hold in some parts of our community and caused a kind of collective amnesia. We need to wake up and work toward our common goals. Changing one's mind based on new information is a healthy thing to do.     

Rachel Bynum 

The writer, who lives in Sperryville, is a Rappahannock County School Board member from the Piedmont District.


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