Dear Board of Education & Superintendent;
I am writing to you today as an experienced city educator, a mom and as someone who holds a PhD in education. I have worked in the area for 12 years. I also teach at a college that services a large portion of our graduates.
Our students enter schools behind their suburban peers and often graduate behind them as well. When you add the shutdowns, the year of virtual school and now, the continuation of masking and COVID protocols that prevent me and my colleagues from performing many needed intervention strategies, we are setting our students up to fail even more. I have taught 8th grade for the last nine years. This year, my reading scores are showing the lowest growth if there is any at all. Socially and emotionally, most of my students present more like 5th graders—the last year that they had in school that was normal for them. They are struggling in ways I haven’t seen before.
I was shocked to hear you announce that we were going to be continuing with these measures, especially when Mercer County is listed in green—which purports no need to wear a mask. As the body of research grows in terms of how covid protocols, including masking, have affected students and driven learning loss while the pandemic went on, there are already studies that show the impact on student literacy and the impact on their reading abilities and effects on their education:
- Stanford found the reading skills stalled during the pandemic: https://news.stanford.edu/2021/03/09/reading-skills-young-students-stalled-pandemic/
- The Effect of COVID-19 on Education: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8445757/
There is also growing research on how masking has affected younger students in their language skill sets and have caused speech and language delays in pre-school students—many of which do not know a world without the pandemic:
- University of Southern California Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics: Masking Inhibits Children from Learning Language: https://healthpolicy.usc.edu/article/mandatory-masking-of-school-children-is-a-bad-idea/
- Understanding the Impact of Face Masks on the Processing of Facial Identity, Emotion, Age, and Gender:
- Study on nonverbal communication and children:
- Study on cognitive decline, speech and language delays in children 0-5 due to COVID restrictions (including masking):
While we had to learn what COVID was and what the best ways to fight the virus would be, we sacrificed in many other areas, including our children. However, we are now at a time where we know how to prevent and treat. We are also in a much different position than we were two years ago, and it is time to start addressing how to begin supporting our student’s growth forward following three school years of disruption, loss of services and the side effects of masking.
Respectfully, I request that you please think over your decision to continue this mandate next week. Many of my 8th graders were looking forward to taking off their masks, some even exclaimed they were ready to burn them or cut them up—never wanting to see them again. They are hungry for a normal school life…one where they can see their friends and teacher’s faces.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Dr. Katherine Kuzma-Beck Hart, PhD