FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Joe Dorman, CEO – Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy
Telephone: (405) 833-1117
Groups Form “MASK” Coalition to Seek Statewide Mask Policy for In-School Learning
OKLAHOMA CITY (Nov. 5, 2020) – A diverse group of organizations advocating for children, education, and health care announced a new coalition Thursday to seek a statewide mask rule for in-school learning.
During a remote press conference, the group calling itself Masks Are Saving Kids (MASK) announced their joint effort to convince the Oklahoma State Board of Education to reconsider its action to not adopt a mask policy for in-school learning. In July, the state Board of Education rejected an in-school mask policy by one vote, leaving the decision to local school districts.
“Leaving it to local school boards will create a patchwork of mask policies in the state where some of our students are protected, while others are not,” said Joe Dorman, CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA). “Making sure all the kids in classrooms are protected is why we took up this cause. Not only the students, but teachers and their families also will be better protected with a mask requirement in the state’s classrooms.”
OICA recently purchased several billboards in Oklahoma City and Tulsa showing members of the state Board of Education and their votes on the mask policy issue. A petition drive was also initiated on CHANGE.ORG to raise public awareness of the issues. As the billboards went up and the signature count grew, OICA called on the state Board of Education to adopt the in-school mask policy.
Joining OICA in its effort to get a new vote on masks in school is an array of organizations focused on education and health care. The Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), Oklahoma PTA®, the Oklahoma State Medical Association (OSMA), the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a pair of school superintendents who are past leaders in the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association.
OEA President Alicia Priest said requiring masks in school is prudent as the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be surging again. “When you put teachers and students together in close proximity like a classroom, we have a responsibility to take every precaution we can,” she said. “School should be a place of learning rather than where children and teachers go to get sick or take the virus back home to their families.”
The chance for spreading among families is a growing concern, especially since Oklahoma is a top ten state in the number of children raised by the grandparents. “Even if a child who contracts COVID-19 is lucky and has only mild symptoms, there is a real chance the disease will be spread to parents and grandparents who may have compromised immune systems,” said Oklahoma PTA President Alison Taylor. “This is an easily avoidable risk simply by requiring students to wear masks during school, and we call on the state Board of Education to make the right decision.”
OSMA President George Monks, M.D., noted that masks make a difference. “The past few months have shown that masking is, without a doubt, one of the most important weapons we have in the fight against coronavirus. In fact, according to figures from the Oklahoma State Department of Health, areas that have enacted a mask requirement have seen an almost 30 percent drop in their infection rates,” said Dr. Monks. “With Oklahoma’s COVID-19 infections on the rise, it’s absolutely essential we work together to mitigate the spread of this disease, whether it’s at work, in public, or in our classrooms. “
That point was reiterated by Dwight Sublett, M.D., F.A.A.P., president of the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He pointed to COVID-19 transmission rates in areas of the state with mask ordinances compared to those without one.
“The state epidemiologist this week reported that COVID-19 cases grew by 88% in areas without a mask policy, while the growth rate among Oklahomans under a mask ordinance was only 21%,” Dr. Sublett related. “Even the most die-hard skeptic cannot deny that fact. Masks are the easiest way to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
Millwood Superintendent Cecilia Robinson-Woods, a former president of OSSAA, which governs interscholastic activities, said if school sports fans want to see the athletic seasons to continue, masks are a good step in that direction. “We’ve seen games canceled because of the school’s rosters devastated by COVID cases,” she said. “If the pandemic continues to worsen, we will see more games canceled than played.”
Chris Brewster, superintendent at Santa Fe South Public Schools, concurred. “Not only are sporting events at risk without an in-school mask policy, but other interscholastic competitions also could be on the chopping block,” he said. “The best weapon we have in the fight against COVID-19 as students are returning to schools is a simple requirement that students wear masks in the classroom.”
Dorman concluded by noting that the state Board of Education rejected the mask regulation before elevated numbers of positive cases and hospitalizations skyrocketed. Only one member changing from a “no” to a “yes” would protect all the state’s students and their families, instead of only a few.
“This is not a big ask,” he said. “A statewide mask policy is no more inconvenient for students than the dress codes almost every school district has, or kids wearing helmets on motorcycles, or wearing seatbelts in cars. Ensuring every Oklahoma student is covered by a mask while in school will protect the students, their teachers, and their families at home. You don’t get many decisions in public office that are as easy as that.”