Our local school district mandated masks in all its schools and offices last week and I’m grateful to the school board and the medical team assisting them for this choice. There are many people who disagree with this decision and have no hesitation vilifying all those involved in it. For those who believe this mandate is unnecessary, please consider a very icky fact here in the United States: there are more kids living in poverty than in any other age group. If you are fortunate enough to have a full time job with benefits, you may not suffer greatly when your child’s classroom has to be shut down due to a Covid-19 exposure and all students have to learn virtually while self-isolating. You probably have paid sick leave available for use during family illness. If your sick leave is depleted, it’s safe to presume that you have vacation leave remaining. You may even have a job that allows you to work from home and other than juggling work and caregiving, you’re not losing income. Though a child’s need to stay home may be annoying and make my day difficult, our financial stability is not on the line. I’m not losing days of wages caring for my children when a classmate becomes ill with Covid-19. I have the privileges mentioned above, but the bulk of students my children learn and play with do not live in homes with those same advantages. Our district is identified as majority Title I, meaning most students enrolled in our area schools are from low-income families. Within our local school, approximately four out of five students receive free and reduced lunch. It is likely that losing two weeks of wages caring for a child home from school could lead to eviction for some families. At minimum, those lost hours will lead to hunger. When a child in poverty has to stay home from school, they’re usually losing one to two meals a day provided at school. Families in poverty pay their rent or mortgage, choose which utility bill they can manage to cover while hoping the others aren’t turned off, alternating utilities monthly to keep the the phone from ringing with reminder calls, set money aside to pay for gasoline or transportation to get to and from work, using the paltry bits left for food. Any amount of time off from work may result in a devastating impact felt for weeks. Late penalties pile up or in more dire situations, reconnection fees for basic utilities they were unable to pay. Some families are at risk of having their vehicles repossessed or worse, their homes. If a child catches Covid-19 and then their family members also get sick, every wage earner will lose money while ill and possibly forfeit their jobs, depending on the graciousness of their employers. With eviction moratoriums in a precarious position and some unemployment payments ceasing, families have no back-ups. The school board didn’t make a mask mandate for me and other parents like me. They made a mask mandate for the students who will suffer in unimaginable ways if their existing poverty is further increased by preventable illness and the havoc it wreaks. They made a mask mandate for their caregivers, making it more likely they’ll be able to stay in their jobs and in their homes. This mask mandate is to keep children and the families they love and need safe. Safety involves more than the risk of physical illness. Thankfully, my children and their friends are in the care of people who acknowledge this and act accordingly. For those who assume my children are suffering, I assure you they are not. Wearing a mask has given them the freedom to dress like a superhero, a cat, a dinosaur, and a shark, any day they please.