Only evil people want to hurt children. There is a small but sizeable subset of monsters in human form. These are the folks we read about in true crime novels and watch on Court TV and Dateline. They neglect, they abuse, they kill. Thankfully, they are the exception, albeit a very significant exception to the human rule.

But there are a lot of people who hurt children without intending to, even if they think their actions are designed to protect them and advance their welfare. In some ways, these people are as dangerous as the criminals who fill up court dockets, because it’s impossible to have a discussion with them about the mistakes they make. Like zealots of religious or political stripe, they are convinced what they are doing is justified. Not only that, they think that their modus operandi is the only correct way of action, and those who oppose them are “the enemy.”

READ MORE Christine Flowers: The smarmy K-12 mask crusade

We’ve seen this happen over the past two years with the pandemic, and the fault-lines that were created when some adults believed it was best to hermetically seal children in masks and in their homes, while others wanted more flexibility in how to teach and treat them. It’s fair to say the two groups do not speak the same language, and even fairer to say they have grown to actually hate each other. 

And yet, ask anyone from either group how they feel about the children, and you will hear “we love them and worry about their health and their futures.” It’s no secret that I belong to the tribe that opposes mandatory masking, virtual schooling and in the most extreme of cases, forced vaccination. I’ve written about my anger with the overbearing, inconsistent and in some cases totalitarian policies of school districts and school boards that impose strict guidelines on how they can carry out the most minute activities like sipping water, going to the bathroom, or singing in a Christmas pageant. This last one really upset me this week: I saw photo after photo of little kids dressed as shepherds, Mary and Joseph in nativity scenes all masked up like members of the Jesse James gang.

So it’s clear I have a bias, and you’re welcome to stop reading if you don’t share that same bias. But I hope you’ll continue for a moment as I describe one particular incident of hypocrisy that was brought to my attention. It involves a local school district, Upper Merion, and some of the teachers and administrators who chose to have a maskless holiday party while at the same time supporting a very draconian mask mandate in their district.

The district regulations can be found on the school district website and mandate that “masks must be properly worn at all times.” The “at all times” provides for narrow exceptions, as when the student or teacher is eating (which is not overly generous since we’ve yet to figure out how to shove sandwiches through cloth in an appetizing and nutritionally effective way) or during approved “mask breaks.”

You can agree with the policy (I don’t) and you can disagree with the policy (I do), but there is something entirely dystopian about wrapping children in fabric to prevent them from getting sick when the number of children who have actually gotten seriously ill from Covid is statistically negligible. When that became obvious, the folks who “follow the science” switched directions and then said children should be masked because they could transmit the disease to grandma (assuming she’s not in one of the nursing homes so wonderfully supervised by the ex-Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine.)

There is something entirely dystopian about wrapping children in fabric to prevent them from getting sick when the number of children who have actually gotten seriously ill from Covid is statistically negligible.

And that pivot shows that the adults who are insisting on draconian mask mandates are not as concerned with the little ones’ health as they are with the health risk they pose to others. That’s fine, but they should come out and say it like that, and not pretend to worry about the welfare of the children.

If they really were worried, they would look at another branch of the science they profess to venerate — psychiatry — and examine the vertiginous upward trajectory suicides, depression, and other mental health problems experienced by children who cannot see the bottom half of their classmates’ faces, and who have been forced into unnecessary lockdowns for almost two years. But that is dismissed as right-wing propaganda, even though the numbers don’t lie. According to a report from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, depression and anxiety doubled in children during the pandemic.

That’s not propaganda, that’s science.

Which brings me to the local story that triggered this column. My friend Andrea reached out to me on Facebook to express her frustration at seeing photos posted by members of her local school district, Upper Merion, which showed school board members and township supervisors hugging, sitting inches apart, celebrating and smiling. How do I know they were smiling? They weren’t wearing masks. These are among the same people supporting the continued use of masks at all times on school property, even though parents like my friend have been vocal in pointing out the harm they are causing to children. 

Andrea puts it this way: “How can the purported leaders of the community give the families in Upper Merion the proverbial middle finger while our children suffer? My five year old son dreads school because he feels that no one likes him because no one smiles at him. As a kindergartener, his introduction to formal education has set him up to view all things school with anxiety and fear. My daughter has a medical condition that prevents her from wearing a mask and she is constantly questioned about it and other kids and staff make comments. To a five year old girl, that sets a very bad tone to the beginning of an educational career.”

‘How can the purported leaders of the community give the families in Upper Merion the proverbial middle finger while our children suffer?’

I reached out to Alice Hope, school board president for a comment, and this was her response:

“With respect to the Christmas party allegations, any photographs were copied from social media by unsuccessful school board candidates who seem to have an axe to grind with me. We had an adult gathering scheduled at my home that conditioned attendance upon vaccination status, which is why maskless was an option. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to determine vaccination status among children.”

I will take Ms. Hope’s word about the vaccination status of guests at face value, although Andrea and several others have indicated that they know for a fact that some of the people in those photos were not vaccinated. Be that as it may, it was a private party, and probably should have remained private and not splashed on public social media accounts.

Her last line, though, is troubling. It is true you cannot force a child to admit whether he has been vaccinated, but I am aware of situations where teachers and other adults have shamed children into admitting they’re not vaccinated. I’ve also seen cases, like that of Andrea’s daughter, where kids with medical conditions are ostracized by other kids because they don’t wear masks. We are turning, small bit by larger bit, into a suburban Lord of the Flies landscape.

I do believe most of us care deeply about the welfare of children, even if we differ vehemently on the protocols and priorities. But it’s important to show some humility in the way we celebrate in our own adult leisure hours, and not flaunt the same rules we want imposed on others.

Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61

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