Anti-Mask Bullies Are A Danger To Our Children

by Amber Gale
'4th grade daughter had mask ripped off & strings torn...' tweet next to a mo4th-gradether and her 4...
Amber Gale/Facebook

I am not okay.

Earlier today I made a trip to a gas station — not in my town, but in my county. I wore my mask. Not one person of the seven in the store had theirs on, aside from one older gentleman who came in after me. Nobody said anything, but you could feel the judgment in the room. The air was thick and heavy and seeping with presumptive looks and a lack of even eye contact. No smiles shared. Just shifted gazes.

As I was walking out of the store, a kid — roughly 10 years old — said “Baa Baa” at me as I walked by. I wasn’t sure I heard him right, so I stopped and said, “Excuse me?” He said it again.

I educated him that what he said was inappropriate. I let him know that although I was fully vaccinated, I also have a kid at home who has half of a heart, breathes through a hole in his neck, and is already on oxygen. I said, “You don’t know someone’s story and there is no reason to ever make fun of someone for their own choices.”

Amber Gale/Facebook

The kid rolled his eyes and walked past me into the store, as his mom started to get out of the car and walk towards me. I shook my head in a “Don’t even” movement, and she acted like she was looking for something in her car. Maybe she was. But I’m pretty sure she could have felt my anger at that distance.

If a ten-year-old child is willing to say that to me, an adult he didn’t need to have any interaction with — what’s he willing to say to his peers?

I’ve had messages from friends all day. Parents in the special-needs community who have siblings, or friends of their medically fragile kids, etc., who are being taunted for what’s considered to be their CHOICE to wear a mask.

One friend’s daughter had her facemask ripped off her face, stepped on, and thrown in the garbage.

Her sister is home-schooled and going through chemo. Was it escalated? Yes. But only because that girl was brave enough to say something. How many children aren’t?

How many kids will simply stuff their masks in their pockets to avoid being bullied? As for my friend’s daughter? She’s transitioned to virtual school for the rest of the year for safety’s sake and is heartbroken not to be able to finish out her last weeks of middle school with her friends. And her sister with cancer is trying to process how her being sick is “ruining everyone else’s lives.”

There were less than two weeks left in the school year for most children. The vast majority of children can’t even be vaccinated yet.

My daughter was going to go back to school this week. After the Iowa Department Of Public Health (IDPH) announcement, our school district dropped their mask requirement over the weekend. She gets the school text messages and alerts. She came to me in tears. “I can’t go back. I’m not fully vaccinated and I’m afraid I’ll bring it home and kill AJ.”

Amber Gale/Facebook

Is that extreme? Yes. But this child has also watched as we’ve bagged her brother back to life and called in the ambulance due to complications from a common cold. Her fears are NOT unfounded.

My daughter has struggled all year with virtual schooling. She’s said multiple times that it doesn’t feel like anyone even knows she exists and that nobody cares. Her assignments are all on Google Classroom and there is no one-on-one, and no direct contact aside from occasional messages and comments on her work.

She’s a talented and gifted kid, who tested high enough on standardized test that she was recommended for additional testing. Now she is barely getting anything more than AC’s and P’s on her report card. We are paying out of pocket for tutoring to try to keep her from falling behind.

All because she has a completely valid fear of getting her brother sick.

And just when we were finally going to let her step back into school — vaccinations were happening, mitigation was in place — my twelve-year-old daughter had to choose between an effective education and the possibility that she would have to carry the burden if her brother did happen to get sick. Not because we would blame her, but because she would blame herself.

Amber Gale/Facebook

She is twelve. She should NOT have to have those thoughts, much less have to question why in the world people can’t just help her keep her brother safe. “It’s just a mask — it’s not like they’re hard to wear!”

My medically fragile son repeated preschool this year. He needed the focus on social skills. He had just started to go to school during recess time. We went once before the announcement. He is going to Philadelphia at the end of the month for additional procedures. He can’t get sick. There will be no more recess time for him, and as such, no chance to work on social skills.

The CDC’s recommendation is still to wear masks in schools. The IDPH threw out revised guidelines and the Republican legislature pushed this bill through at the VERY last second.

This wasn’t about freedom. We don’t NEED to say the Pledge of Allegiance in school to have pride in our country. Wearing a mask wasn’t hurting anyone — and parents and school administration having less than 12 hours notice to decide what to do was ridiculous.

This was a blatant move to appeal to the extreme end of the Republican spectrum, and I’m appalled at anyone who thinks it’s about anything else.

Amber Gale/Facebook

Instead of looking at ANY of the other legislation that could have been addressed at the tail of this session — our representatives decided that THIS needed to be their focus.

People are saying, “Thank you for caring about our children’s mental health.” But if it was actually about your child’s mental health, they would have put focus on any number of the bills focused on providing more mental health support and suicide prevention to children (HF2049, HF2391, HF2521,SF2067….).

Or, “Nobody is saying you can’t wear your mask.” And I will — but masks are more effective at preventing the transmission than they are at stopping a person from becoming infected. A mask helps keep the wearer’s germs off the surfaces that everyone else has to touch. It doesn’t stop someone else from touching those surfaces and bringing those germs from point A to point B.

Amber Gale/Facebook

“Just stay home if you’re that vulnerable.” Sure — but our legislature has also ripped away unemployment support, failed to implement changes to the direct care workforce, and has made it virtually impossible for people to make that decision without jeopardizing their mental health and financial welfare. All because having a rule about wearing a mask is too restrictive for a select few.

WHO on earth were our politicians protecting with the bills that have been passed this session? Certainly not Iowa’s most vulnerable. Feels more like the focus was on our most radical right.

I don’t usually talk about politics. But at the end of the day, I need to advocate for my family.

November 8, 2022 cannot get here soon enough.