Parental control debate disrupts learning and harms communities

By Alaina Perdon
Elm Staff Writer

In grade schools across the country, COVID-19 regulations are being updated and parents are taking to school board meetings, town halls, and even carpool lines to voice their disdain. Some parents have taken to staging walk-outs and using intimidation tactics to persuade school officials to eliminate restrictions.      

According to the Los Angeles Times, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Oct. 1 that all public and private K-12 students would be required to receive the vaccine once they become eligible in order to participate in in-person instruction. This brought particular attention to California schools, where widespread protests popped up in response to the recently announced statewide vaccination mandate.

Such protests are disruptive to students’ learning. In many counties, parents kept their children home from school in the weeks following Newsom’s announcement to protest the decision.

“We are not anti-vax. In fact, a lot of us have been vaccinated…[but] we are against the usurping of parental rights by the government,” mother Laura Sextro said in an interview for the Orange County Register.

Parents have every right to make the decisions they feel are best for their children. However, school systems are responsible for all the children in attendance, thus, they must make the decisions they feel are best for the community.

Vaccines and masks ensure community safety. Families that do not agree do not have to be afforded the privileges of participating in those communities.

“Parental control” is a concept frequently brought into this debate, but it is nothing more than a guise under which anti-vaccination and anti-mask agendas can be pursued.

According to CNN’s Ruth Ben-Ghiat, these parent-driven movements are part of “a Republican crusade to ‘take back America’ through violent verbiage.” While some protests are peaceful, both individuals and organized groups have called for the use of violence or physical intimidation against schools and school boards in response to COVID-19 policies.

Steve Lynch, a Republican Pennsylvania county executive candidate, publicly encouraged the use of intimidation toward school board members and parents who support mask mandates at a campaign rally in August.

“I’m going to give [the school board] an option: they can leave or they can be removed. And then after that, we’re going to replace them with nine parents and we’re going to vote down the mask mandates that evening…this is how you get stuff done,” Lynch said.

Such rhetoric only furthers the partisan divide on pandemic responses, creating a socially tense and potentially dangerous environment.

“Right-wing propaganda has effectively convinced many parents that masks are ‘muzzles’ of freedom and vaccine mandates tyrannical, spawning new waves of activists imbued with an intolerant ‘us vs. them’ mentality little in keeping with democratic models of civic life,” Ben-Ghiat said.

Even more important is the fact that battles over COVID-19 regulations in schools place the nation’s children in danger. Masks and approved vaccines can stop children from contracting a potentially fatal virus; both should be required for students’ protection. Moreover, children should not be missing out on their education because their parents disagree with their principal’s values.

We are endangering children’s lives to prove political points. Children are not pawns in the game of politics — they are dependent on the adults in their lives for protection.

Parents who refuse to vaccinate or mask their children because they fear relinquishing “parental control” are failing to protect their children, and those that try to prevent school systems from putting such protections in place are putting entire communities in jeopardy.

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