Superintendent: It’s ‘unrealistic’ to expect 5-year-olds to wear masks

For students who dread smelling their own breath all day long underneath increasingly damp and dirty face masks, the superintendent of Oak Harbor public schools is on your side.

As things currently stand, teachers and students in Washington state public schools will be expected to wear face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19 when school returns in the fall.

But Oak Harbor school officials hope and believe this guidance will change before school actually restarts.

Lance Gibbon, superintendent of Oak Harbor schools, said in a Virtual Community Q&A with Island County Public Health Director Keith Higman last week that he simply doesn’t think 5-year-old children can be expected to wear face masks all day long.

“I don’t think that’s very realistic,” he said.

If face coverings are required, Gibbon said teachers would likely wear clear plastic masks that the district may also supply to students.

Gibbon made it clear that he believes the face-to-face instruction at the schools is vastly superior to online learning. He said school officials estimate that students learned less than 50 percent of what they would have learned online this year compared to classroom instruction.

Gibbon said he’s also concerned about the issue of equity.

While some parents have limited resources and limited time to aid their children with online learning and online homework, other parents might have all the time in the world.

The result, he said, is not “an equitable opportunity” for all students.

Yet the most important, overarching concern, Gibbon said, is the safety of students and the people who work at the school. The most powerful tool to that end, he said, is for people to stay home when they are sick.

He said there’s a simple check list that parents and staff members will be asked to consider each day.

In classrooms, the school district’s goal is to maintain the six-foot distancing rule. Gibbon admitted that kids will come closer than that in the hallway, but they will still be within the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines.

Higman pointed out that CDC rules about distancing and masks are evolving. Any rules will be based on the best science at the time.

Gibbon said he’s especially concerned about choir because the disease spreads more easily through singing. The class, he said, has to find a way of doing social distancing more effectively.

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