Poll: Most people want mask mandates in schools.
Photo by Mira Kireeva / Unsplash

Poll: Most people want mask mandates in schools.

Berry Craig
Berry Craig

Opponents of mask mandates in K-12 schools would have us believe that most folks are on their side.

A brand new poll suggests otherwise.

With COVID-19 infections sharply rising again in Kentucky and elsewhere, 59 percent of Americans think teachers should have to mask up, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey. Fifty-eight percent said students should be required to wear masks.

(The poll also revealed that 59 percent favor vaccination requirements for teachers and 55 percent support compulsory vaccinations for eligible students 12 and older.)

Related story: Voters overwhelmingly support vaccine and mask mandates

Gov. Andy Beshear ordered mandatory masking in public and private schools, and the state Board of Education ordered the same for public schools. Following a state Supreme Court ruling limiting his emergency powers in fighting COVID-19, Beshear rescinded his order, though the school board mandate apparently remains in effect.

So what do teachers think about masking?

I'm a retired community college teacher (AFT and KEA), but I'm for mandatory masking. So is my wife (KEA), who has come out of retirement to teach a class at the public high school where she was on the faculty for 36 years.

The faculty and staff aren't up in arms over masking at my old school or my wife's old school. Maybe I'm missing it. But I've yet to detect a groundswell of mask opposition from teachers or school staffers from Jordan to Jenkins.

Meanwhile, anti-mask protests, sometimes rowdy, at schools and school board meetings have been grabbing headlines and making the TV news. But the poll pretty strongly hints that a “silent majority” of us aren't with them.

Statements from teachers' organizations

Anyway, the state's three largest education groups — KY120 United-American Federation of Teachers, Kentucky Education Association, and the Jefferson County Teachers Association — all issued statements supporting Beshear's mask mandate.

KY120: “We are grateful for Gov. Beshear’s strong leadership when it comes to keeping our most vulnerable Kentuckians safe in the classroom, our children. We applaud his willingness to follow science and the recommendations of the CDC and our state health departments when others have struggled to make the right decisions. We are excited to welcome children back to our buildings and classrooms, and look forward to a safe year of learning and growing across the commonwealth.”

KEA President Eddie Campbell: “Our schools count on our elected leaders to do what is best for the safety and health of our children, and to lead with that goal foremost in their minds. KEA supports Gov. Beshear’s mask requirement in all public schools. Masks are a simple, low-impact, essential precaution that will protect students, educators and families and will hopefully allow schools to remain open. No one wants to return to extended virtual learning or to the society-wide restrictions of 2020. But to avoid that, we must all use common sense to protect ourselves and each other.

“More than 90% of teachers and support staff nationwide have been vaccinated, according to a recent survey. Educators know the importance and value of in-person learning and they are doing their part to ensure that students can continue to learn in-person. But educators cannot do this alone; all public education stakeholders and every member of every Kentucky community needs to do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep our students in school.”

JCTA President Brent McKim: “The Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA) appreciates Gov. Beshear’s leadership in keeping Kentucky’s students and education employees safe and healthy through the COVID-19 pandemic. As the commonwealth’s public schools reopen with full student schedules every day, we know most schools will not be able to maintain ideal social distancing between students, so it is more important than ever for all students and staff to wear masks when the COVID-19 infection rates are high, as they are now. Just across the river in Indiana, we have already seen students losing a great deal of instructional time and schools closing due to COVID-19 spread in schools. We don’t want that to happen in Kentucky. That’s why the teacher’s association support’s Gov. Beshear’s call for masking in our schools.”

Meanwhile, in Republican land ...

No matter what the teachers think, the Republicans, who rule the roost in the General Assembly, are popping corks — pandering and posturing might be more like it — over mask mandating. They've tried to thwart just about everything the governor has attempted to do to fight the deadliest pandemic in a century and to keep us out of the hospital and the cemetery.

Republicans claim they're defending “personal freedom.” To paraphrase an old saying, “Your ‘personal freedom’ ends at my nose” seems particularly apt for a highly contagious airborne virus that has killed more than 631,000 Americans to date, including over 7,600 Kentuckians, according to The New York Times.

At the same time, the GOP isn't exactly public education/union-friendly. So I can hear party bigwigs claim, “It's the KY120-KEA-JCTA ‘bosses’ who are for mask mandates, not teachers and school staff.”

Anti-labor politicians have been trotting out that divide-and-conquer con against unions for years. But here's the real deal: Like politicians, every officer in a union — from president on down — is elected. Like politicians, union officers can be voted out by those they represent.

I haven't seen any evidence of the KY120, KEA, and JCTA rank-and-file rebelling en masse against those statements backing the governor's mask mandate.

Okay, my wife and I spent most of our working lives in classrooms. But even if we'd worked somewhere else, we'd agree that teachers, and the organizations that represent them, know better how to keep kids safe and healthy at school, than self-serving politicians with big axes to grind and with demonstrably anti-union and anti-public education agendas.

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Commentary

Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)


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