Parents question continued masking in Hawaii schools

(The Center Square) - A decision by the interim superintendent for the Hawaii State Department of Education to continue masking in Hawaii schools until the end of the year has puzzled some parents.

Keith Hayashi, who has been serving as interim superintendent since August, said in a letter that students, teachers and other personnel would be required to wear masks in schools until May 27, which is the last day for teachers.

He added that quarantine of in-school exposures is no longer required only if universal indoor masking is implemented.

Some parents called the move unnecessary.

“Masks have never ever been needed for children under 12,” parent Peter Anglim told The Center Square. “The studies actually say that masks have harmed children. So who is benefiting from this? The teacher’s union. They have an agenda that doesn't include educating my child.”

Kevin O’Connor, who told The Center Square he has grandchildren in third, seventh, and eighth grades, said Hayashi should be fired.

“There is no need for kids to be masked, especially when they have a high immunity rate," O'Connor said. "This is the problem with Democrats, they always think they know what's good for the kids besides the parents.”

The decision to keep masks on children in schools comes as the 7-day average of cases statewide was 163 as of April 11, contrasting sharply with mid-January where the 7-day average of cases was over 4,000, according to the Department of Health. The state has a 77.1% vaccination rate.

The cases in schools are even lower. As of April 18, there were 74 cases reported across 42 schools, according to the Department of Education.

“I just don’t understand the reason for masks. I believe it’s up to the children and parents to decide,” said Dawn Malubay, who has two grandchildren in elementary school on Maui and a senior in private school.

She said now that the mask mandate on planes and airports has been struck down, it’s time for schools to do the same.

Hawaii’s statewide indoor mask requirement was lifted as of March 26. Gov. David Ige said at the time masks were still recommended in schools, along with several other settings including hospitals and correctional facilities. All COVID-related travel restrictions for domestic travelers have also been lifted.

It leaves school children among the very last in the state still wearing masks indoors.

Hayashi said there was “extensive scientific literature supporting the effectiveness of masking to reduce COVID-19 in transmission in schools and other settings” but did not point to specific studies and left out other research that has demonstrated serious harm related to keeping masks on children.

A report published by the National Library of Medicine found mask obstruction on faces limited the ability of people of all ages to infer emotions and said the findings were significantly pronounced in children between the ages of 3 and 5. It raised questions about whether masks might alter or delay development of social skills in early childhood.

Hayashi said he is following recommendation from the Department of Health.

“We have been working very closely with DOH since the beginning of the pandemic and this partnership has kept our schools safe and open for in-person learning through the height of the pandemic," Hayashi said. "As we cautiously transition back to normal, we continue to rely on the guidance and expertise of our local health officials."

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