Mask mandates for elementary schools put child’s social development at risk

Students draw in class at Wilder Elementary School in Louisville, Ky., on Aug. 11, 2021. (Amira Karaoud/Reuters)

There is a real danger in masking children, and everyone around them, during their formative years.

Inot my home state of Texas, Governor Greg Abbott issued an order preventing independent school districts from requiring children to wear masks throughout the school day. But a state judge stayed this order, and now major school districts across the state are implementing mask rules for children and staff members. Rather than trying to create a sanitized learning space, schools should focus on student well-being. A holistic approach to student outcomes is needed more than ever.

Students have not performed well academically during the pandemic. Almost every metric shows that school closures and blended learning were not productive for children. the New York Times reported last month this:

Elementary students in the United States finished the 2020-21 school year four to five months behind where they normally would have been in terms of academic achievement, according to a report by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. which was released on Tuesday. He revealed that many of the most vulnerable students have experienced the most significant setbacks.

Even students have fared poorly during the pandemic. A survey of undergraduate students found that they rated their virtual college experience as quite poor. They responded:

On a five-point scale from “excellent” to “poor”, only 7% of current students rated the value of their education this year as “excellent”, while nearly three times as many (19%) were at the opposite. of the scale rating it as “poor”. Almost half of all students (47%) rated their educational value as ‘fair’ or ‘poor’. No way to coat it in sugar – it’s a disastrous note.

Having taken virtual classes myself, I can personally attest to the fact that learning online is much more difficult than participating in person. But while academic issues related to virtual learning have received a healthy dose of national attention, the effects it — and hidden mandates — may have on children’s social development remain relatively under-examined.

The vast majority of human interaction is non-verbal. Anywhere from 70 to 93 percent of communication is left unsaid. Therefore, if someone does not know the context of a conversation, it is very difficult for them to understand what is actually being communicated. Human interactions become more subtle as we age, and without proper socialization, interpersonal communication becomes more difficult. Good communication is absolutely crucial for healthy relationships; miscommunication is the main driver of divorce. There is therefore a real danger in masking children, and everyone around them, during their formative years, as it deprives them of the main means of non-verbal communication: the face.

Human beings of all ages are social creatures; we are constantly looking for non-verbal cues and seek affirmation from others. This is especially true for elementary school children, who are just beginning to learn how to interact with their peers. If everyone wears masks, these interactions are more difficult for children to manage and a child’s social development could be delayed.

My point is not that we should ignore public health data or academic performance; it goes without saying that we must absolutely pay attention to the increase in the number of COVID-19 and the delay of children in their studies. We just can’t forget that schooling is also important for non-academic reasons — and that mask mandates could come with real costs in the long run.

Joel C. Hicks