Baldwin County School System administrators and board members have faced difficult choices in the last month.
No matter what decision they made, they were going to anger a great many parents and other residents in a very heated issue. On Thursday, Aug. 20, the Baldwin County Board of Education made a difficult, but correct choice to protect more than 30,000 children from COVID-19.
The board voted 5-1 with one abstention, to support Superintendent of Education Eddie Tyler’s directive that students and others on system property wear masks to reduce the chances of spreading COVID-19.
The vote came after more than two hours of debate in which more than 30 supporters and opponents of the mandate addressed the board.
Everyone present sincerely felt that their position was best for their children. The seven elected board members had no easy way out, but, in the end, they did what was best.
Opponents said that parents should be the ones who decide what is best for their children. They said young students are not going to follow the protocols needed to make the masks effective and that masks upset many children. They said masks cannot block something as small as a virus.
Supporters, however, many of them medical professionals, said the evidence and their experience show that masks do work. They said COVID-19 has spread in Baldwin County to the point that hospitals are “overrun” as one Thomas Hospital doctor said. Something has to be done.
COVID-19 is deadly. Opponents said the vast majority of those infected survive. The disease, however, has killed more than 600,000 Americans in the last year and a half. Since July, the coronavirus has killed at least 45 people in Thomas Hospital alone, one doctor said.
The fact is that a child without a mask can infect other children. Requiring one’s child to wear a mask is not just for his or her protection. It is for the protection of other children. The school system is responsible for the health and safety of those children while they are in its care.
Everyone at the meeting should also be commended for the way the debate was conducted.
School system officials were prepared for disruptions. A metal detector was installed at the door to the building. Bags were not allowed inside. Baldwin County sheriff’s deputies and Loxley police patrolled the grounds and the building.
Unlike other meetings in which everyone enters and leaves through the front doors, board members and school officials were escorted in and out from the back of the building, away from the public.
The meeting, however, was peaceful.
At a time when many issues degenerate into shouting matches, speakers addressed the board politely and stopped when their allotted time was done. No one shouted comments from the audience. When the decision was made, supporters and opponents quietly left the building.
These are difficult times. We might not all agree on the best way to deal with them, but the best way to face any situation is to consider all the positions and to work together. No matter how one feels about this, or any other, the meeting Thursday was an encouraging moment from that perspective.