As schools discuss online versus in-person classes, mask use becomes key discussion

Posted at 2:28 PM, Jul 21, 2020

As start dates for school inch closer, educators and health officials are unveiling plans to go back to school safely. One focus: face masks.

“It’s important for people to understand germs,” Laura-Anne Cleveland, an associate nursing officer at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, said.

Cleveland says everything starts with education.

“Trying to get them to understand that air and breath from us can have germs in it," she said.

Cleveland said the best way to do that with younger kids is through a little science experiment.

“Putting a container of water, putting pepper in it and putting soap on their finger and putting your finger in. The pepper disperses, and so showing that the pepper is the germs and soap and things like that are really good to be able to use,” she explained.

As schools finalize plans for reopening--whether that be online, in person, or a combination of the two--masks have become one of the biggest talking points.

“I have never dealt with anything like this,” Marty Gutierrez, an 8th-grade math teacher, said.

Gutierrez has been teaching for 26 years.

“So much is up in the air and we start back to school in three weeks,” he explained. “And we don’t have guidelines or they are changing every day or even two, three times a day.”

One of those guidelines is whether masks will be recommended or required.

“Like anything recommended or required with middle school kids, it’s that year where you push boundaries,” Gutierrez said. “I get parents and their ideals and values and what they want their freedoms to be. Just getting kids to wear masks is going to be difficult enough, and we know we’re going to have some kids that ‘You know what? My parents don’t want me wearing a mask.'”

If schools recommend masks instead of requiring them, there are fears this could open up doors for bullying.

“I’m sure that there will be some kids that are harassing kids for not wearing a mask, or kids that have a different mask,” he said.

Or conversations about fairness.

“If you have a sibling that has to wear a mask but you don't have to, it’s going to not feel fair,” Cleveland said.

Masks have become controversial, but to Gutierrez, it’s just an extra layer of safety for everyone in the building, including those who may be at high-risk for getting COVID-19.

“People are scared. I have friends that have children that are recovering from cancer, or I have friends that take care of elderly parents that are immunocompromised,” he said.

Cleveland and Gutierrez, both parents, themselves, want to keep kids in school and make sure kids remember the why.

“Why are we wearing masks? Why are we wearing face shields? Things like that, and getting the children to understand that,” Cleveland explained.

“This is the best we can do right now, and if we don't follow these guidelines, you're not going to be seeing these friends again, we’re going to go back to that situation where you’re only going to see them online. So, I think it’s expressing that trade-off,” Gutierrez said.