- Names changed in op-ed for privacy.
- Dr. Joe Zickafoose is a pediatrician in Nashville
Life is never easy for parents, especially those raising children with complex medical conditions. Schools act as a life-line for these families by supporting the children’s learning, providing important therapies and other supports to help reach their full potential.
As a pediatrician, I have seen first-hand the challenges that COVID has added to the lives of the families I care for when their children haven’t been able to attend school:
Sam, a third grader who has a bleeding disorder and history of a stroke, spent months without in-person physical and occupational therapy. Despite his parents’ best efforts at home exercises, he started going backwards in his abilities to dress himself, use the toilet on his own and walk without difficulty.
Miguel is a first grader with a rare genetic disorder and intellectual disability. After a year of improvement, he began to injure himself at home again out of frustration while his mother did her best to keep him engaged and stimulated at home.
Serena, a curious 4 year old with autism, is described by her parents as losing some of her hard fought developmental milestones after her therapies were stopped.
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What has each of these families described as key to getting their children back to advancing and thriving? In-person school.
Wearing masks in schools helps those who need in-person learning the most
After a year of uncertainty and dread, parents were finally able to get their kids back to school for the learning, therapies and support they needed. They have reasonable certainty that the schools were doing everything in their power to keep the children safe.
Masks mandates in schools meant that they didn’t have to choose between losing years of progress and the risk that their child would end up in the hospital for weeks, or worse, dead. Now some Tennessee politicians want to take that away.
How masking has become a political football is beyond me. It’s worth a quick reminder that the primary reason to wear masks during the pandemic is to protect others.
It’s time for Tennesseans to start caring for everyone in the community
Most Tennesseans take pride in helping their neighbors, and we certainly should be doing everything to protect the most vulnerable—our children with special health care needs. For these children, learning in-person is key to being able to catch up, so please take a moment to consider what a small ask it is for others to wear a mask for them.
I hope Tennesseans could agree on a least two things: all kids deserve to be in school in-person and that all kids deserve to be safe in those school during this pandemic.
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For our children with special health care needs, school is not only a place of academic learning, but it’s also a place where they work on daily living skills that will help them to thrive as they grow up.
Universal masking in schools helps us accomplish the goal of keeping kids in school safely. Our locally elected school boards deserve the right to protect the most vulnerable children sitting in our classrooms.
I can only hope our political leaders share the same values that are needed to support and protect my patients and thier constituents.
Dr. Joe Zickafoose is a pediatrician in Nashville and a member of the Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.