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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

On My Mind: Back To School, Back To COVID, Back To Masks

You don’t have to take French in public schools in the Carolinas. But when it comes to COVID-19, our schoolkids are definitely learning the meaning of déjà vu.

Most schools around here start in a couple of weeks, and it’s clear that students are about to endure a third straight school year of COVID-19 knocking them sideways.

Schools that started earlier are already in the ditch. Union Academy, a charter school in Monroe, opened two weeks ago with loose rules about masks. Now the school has more than four dozen cases of COVID-19 and is now enforcing a mask mandate. In Mooresville, the school system ended its mask-optional policy after just four days, when more than 80 students had to be quarantined.

Some school districts in North Carolina – mostly big urban ones such as Charlotte-Mecklenburg – are requiring masks for the upcoming school year. Other districts aren’t. In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster signed a law that bans school districts from requiring masks.

Having to wear a mask stinks, and it stinks double for schoolkids. First-graders routinely put their shirts on backwards. It’s hard to expect them to keep a mask on straight all day. But it’s about the least we can do in a world where refusing to wear a mask – and even worse, refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine – has become a bizarre point of political pride. It is, quite literally, the hill some have decided to die on.

Kids don’t suffer from COVID-19 the way adults do. But kids do get COVID-19, and most of them aren’t vaccinated or even eligible to get vaccines. And every school is filled with dozens of adults who can absolutely get the virus and die, especially as the new delta variant sweeps across the country.

There’s one interesting outlier among the school district policies on masks. The school system in Stanly County, home to Albemarle, is requiring masks for the upcoming school year.

Here’s a fact: 75% of Stanly County’s voters went for Trump in 2020. Here’s another fact: A month before the election, Julie Davis, a third-grade teacher at Norwood Elementary, died from COVID-19.

In Stanly County, they know what it’s like to lose a beloved teacher. Sometimes people don’t think something is important until it happens to them. I wonder how many other school kids, and their parents, are about to learn that lesson.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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Tommy Tomlinson has hosted the podcast SouthBound for WFAE since 2017. He also does a commentary, On My Mind, which airs every Monday.