In July, as the delta variant of the coronavirus was fueling a spike of cases across the state, local school district leaders weighed their options ahead of another school year defined by a pandemic.
Feeling the pressure to reopen schools full-time and get students back into their classrooms, superintendents and school board members often heard from a vocal and organized constituency – parents opposed to masks. Hoping to sway decision-makers, the parents showed up at school board meetings, signed up for public comment and made their voices heard.
When the Warren County Board of Education held a meeting July 19, one speaker added her voice to the anti-mask chorus, telling the board she was “concerned that masks might come back into the situation.”
“We pray not for that to happen because there’s a lot of bad results from wearing masks, emotionally and mentally,” said Cynthia Ribeiro, despite data that show community mask-wearing is effective at reducing coronavirus spread and the wearer’s exposure to infection.
Still, another comparatively quieter constituency of parents is making its disappointment known – now that it’s clear both local school systems intend to start the school year without a mask mandate in place.
“It’s terrifying,” Bethany Roberts, a mother of four, told the Daily News.
Throughout Warren County, the vaccination rate remains low. Though the local rate has seen some uptick in recent weeks, only about 40% of the county’s population has been vaccinated, according to a state-maintained data dashboard.
Roberts’ youngest is too young to get the vaccine and will attend Cumberland Trace Elementary School when it opens Wednesday.
After mixed results with the district’s virtual academy last year, Roberts and her husband knew it was vital for all of her children to be back in school full-time this year.
But WCPS’ decision to start school without a universal mask mandate – despite updated advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and warnings from Gov. Andy Beshear – has left Roberts at her wit’s end and worried for her children’s health.
“I don’t understand how this is a political issue. I want my kids to be safe,” she said.
Roberts knows people are free to make their own choices. Still, that truism doesn’t free individuals from the potential consequences and responsibility of their choices – those who choose not to get vaccinated when it is made available to them should have to quarantine to protect others, she said.
“It feels like some have made major sacrifices and some have not,” Roberts said.