The Kansas Legislature has subjected school boards to ludicrous anti-mask political theater

Complaints about masks infringing on personal freedom, “damaging” children and being ineffective should be laughed out of the room, writes Aaron Schwartz. Instead, school boards in Kansas must now allow them to be heard. (Getty Images)

There is no good-faith argument for removing masks in schools.

That’s all that should have to be written. It’s all that should have to be said at district board meetings where now, thanks to Kansas Senate Bill 40, board members must now listen to the anti-mask arguments of community members who want to complain. Now, at a cost of time and resources, these board members must suffer the political theater of selfish, grievance politics. SB 40 gives a forum to every bad-faith argument, no matter how ludicrous.

Instead, complaints about masks infringing on personal freedom, about masks “damaging” children, about how masks don’t work (despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary) should be laughed out of the room. These complainants should be embarrassed the way rational people are embarrassed for them.

The common arguments against masks are, on their face, absurd, if not abhorrent.

“Masks are tyrannical.” They are tyrannical in the same way that seat belts are tyranny, that clean drinking water is tyranny, that hardhats on job sites are tyranny, that wearing clothes while shopping is tyranny.

As much as some people might hate living in a shared society, even those who argue against the use of masks benefit daily from living in a society that values the public good above personal freedom. If you feel your dog is oppressed by leash laws, it does not give you the right to let your dog bite me in a public space. It’s that simple. Masks are not an unconstitutional infringement on personal freedom, and they are certainly not the Holocaust. They are a shared act of commitment to the public good that benefits us all.

“Masks don’t work.” Except they do. Not only do they drastically limit the spread of COVID-19, but they also prevent other viral transmission, such as influenza. The science is absolutely clear: When a person wears a mask, they are protecting others from transmission of viral particles, but they are also protecting themselves. This protection increases when all parties are masked. It is better for you and for me when we both wear a mask. It is to our shared benefit.

It would seem, then, that decrying the loss of personal freedom is misplaced. While masks may be uncomfortable and a minor inconvenience, they provide a crucial freedom to all people: the ability to live a semi-normal life during a pandemic. If schools staying open matters, if participation in sports matters, if being with other people in enclosed spaces matters, then the science is clear: masks grant us these privileges.

“Question Everything.” This is the worst part of the mask (and vaccine) debate: that somehow those of us who follow the conclusive science of masking recommendations are somehow “sheep” or “misled” or “under read.” It’s not only silly, but insulting.

What I would ask those who propose “questioning” the science is this: With what do you suggest we replace it? If you claim that the overwhelming, utterly conclusive science on the effectiveness of masking is in error, the burden of proof now falls on you to establish otherwise. Just know: the CDC, Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, the World Health Organization and every other serious medical entity disagrees with you.

It is not “free thought” or “philosophical” to — much like a toddler — petulantly ask “why?” about every subject in which you are unpracticed, inexpert or ignorant. In place of ignorance, we trust expertise and the consensus of experts. This is how modern life works on literally every level, from Advil to aviation, from iPhones to the eye doctor.

But this is not a serious movement in any sense of the word, and although it has (regrettably) been given a platform, it is not something any institution should take seriously. It is not a movement about personal freedom, safety or some esoteric philosophical principle. What it is anarchic, anti-government, anti-public, anti-establishment, anti-science, anti-education political maneuvering drummed up by a political party with no policy beyond performative outrage.

What it is is craven political theater. That we must witness these terrible theatrics at school board hearings is as much a crime against art as it is science.

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