I am an Educator; I Want Our Legislators to Lift the Mask Ban

I am an Educator; I Want Our Legislators to Lift the Mask Ban

Last month, Arkansas’ infection numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths made national news and my state had the dubious honor of becoming our country’s new virus epicenter. On July 29, Governor Asa Hutchinson declared a public health emergency and called for a special session so that the legislators could consider lifting the state’s mask ban. As an educator, I believe the governor made the right call.


When school starts in just a few weeks, I will be ready to get back in the classroom. But I need our legislators' help in order for me and my students to be safe when doing so.


As a new teacher starting in my own classroom twelve years ago, I remember vividly being nervous. Would I be able to teach my students well? How can I best make sure each one of them makes progress and is successful academically and socially? In years since, I’ve learned my craft and stopped being nervous; all that remained was the excitement I felt when welcoming my students on their first day of school. As a veteran educator, I would love to just feel excited. Instead, I am nervous once again, but for a completely different reason. In two weeks, twenty bright or sleepy-eyed, inquisitive, and diverse kindergartners will spread out across my classroom. My excitement about hearing the chatter of their little voices, seeing them care for one another, and witnessing all of the potentials for their growth is still there. But so is the undeniable uncertainty looming overhead.


But this year’s concern isn’t about the things I may forget or run out of time to do, it is literally about life and death. How, without the ability to require masks, can I ensure that each student is protected from the potentially deadly germs of another student? How can I protect myself, and by extension, my own family and loved ones?


I understand why so many of us are in a rush to get back to life as we knew it before the pandemic. I too want to go back to the way they were. But this moment, when the highly contagious Delta variant is circulating in our community, is not the moment to do so. Instead, we should choose to proceed with caution. Our state's rapidly increasing infection and hospitalization rates should be alarming enough for anyone to follow this advice. As we watch virus surges happening all over the country and crippling our hospitals, and as we learn more and more about the dangers of the Delta variant, we should acknowledge that banning mask mandates is not the solution. 


As a teacher, my main responsibility is to care for my students, protect them from dangers when they are under my care, and facilitate all of the many experiences that are conducive to their growth. The Delta variant’s viral load is more than 1,000 higher than the original alpha strain and it’s 50% more transmissible.  To know that this strand is putting children in danger and potentially in the hospital and to not require masks is negligent. The mask ban is placing us in the direct line of fire and potentially setting us up for more school shutdowns and classroom quarantines, which would prevent me from doing my work as an educator, work that I love doing. My kindergartners and all the other children in our state deserve to have a safe and solid year of instruction and while the virus continues to spread and mutate, it is up to us to protect them and all those who are providing instruction to them daily. 


I commend the governor for declaring another public health emergency for Arkansas and reconvening the legislators for a special session. I ask each of Arkansas’ 135 elected representatives and senators to be the voice that our students and educators need. Repeal the mask ban in schools. 


Juanita Harris is a Teach Plus Arkansas Policy Fellow and Kindergarten teacher leader at Harmony Leadership Academy in Texarkana, Arkansas. She is the Texarkana Arkansas Education Association (TAEA)  Building Rep for her campus as well as the TAEA Membership Organizer for her district. She teaches all core subjects to her eager and excited student leaders. Her daily goal is to inspire her students to acquire and apply the knowledge that will assist them as they grow.

Juanita received the Early Career Award from Kappa Delta Pi in 2013; earned the Bessie B. Moore Economics Educator Award in 2017, and was named Texarkana Arkansas School District’s Teacher of the Year (2017-18) and a 2019 Arkansas State Teacher of the Year Regional Finalist. She earned her BA in Early Childhood Education and her MEd in Curriculum and Instruction; both from Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia,

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