I’ve been the principal of my school for 15 years, so I think I have a pretty good pulse on this community. But I recently had an experience with a parent over masks that shook me because it was so extreme and out of character.

Like most districts, we’ve had to make so many pivots with COVID-19: We’ve done hybrid learning, we’ve done virtual learning, we’ve done masks, we’ve done no masks. When we started the school year in early August, masks were recommended but not required. But when the number of COVID cases started rising, districts in Indiana were given the opportunity to mandate masks, and that’s what ours did. It was not a popular decision.

On the day that we decided to enforce the mask mandate, we thought there might be some issues. Our superintendent told us not to confront people about masks, just to remind them that this is the expectation, to provide masks for people who didn’t have them, and not to be too hard on them.

But on the very same day, I had a mom come in ready to fight.

An Upsetting Disruption

When I was out of my office doing hallway duty, she went to the school nurse and presented her with papers that said her son was exempt from having to wear a mask. She was told that we don’t take exemptions, but that we do allow students to wear face shields as an alternative. The rule is you still must have something covering your face.

This mother walked back through the building, without a mask on, and was yelling at my administrative staff, yelling at my nurse, cursing at us, and telling us we were idiots. When I asked her politely to leave, she took out her phone and started recording. Eventually, I asked our police resource officer to escort her from the building. Meanwhile, she was still yelling and recording it all.

After she left, she posted the video to a local conservative group’s social media site. The thing is, she didn’t even have much to record of me. But she herself looked unhinged. Fortunately, she and our police officer both happened to be at a local church later in the day. They talked, and my officer convinced her to take down the video. I heard that even people from the conservative group asked her to take it down.

Besides disrupting our school, she created an unsafe environment. I had one boy tell me afterward that he was really scared.

Because of how badly she behaved, I think it sort of shut down others who might have wanted to express similar opinions. She never came back, but a few other parents did bring in letters saying it was their children’s constitutional right not to wear a mask. That still doesn’t exempt them from wearing a mask in our school.

Let Us Do Our Jobs

Our students want to be in school. They understand the importance of wearing masks but unfortunately, some parents have made it political. I do think most of the parents get it now. Our kids don’t want to go back to virtual learning, and I don’t think our parents do either. Nobody wants that because that’s not what’s best for the kids.

I’m not sure people understand the mental toll that all of this has taken on teachers and staff. I had four staff members retire last year, and for three of them, COVID was a big reason. They were close to retirement age, but they all would have kept teaching for at least another couple of years. But they decided they just didn’t want to do it anymore.

I think one lesson from all of this is that we need to let educators be the experts who make the decisions. We want to do what’s in the best interests of kids. We want our kids in school, but we do want to do it safely. Please don’t make it hard for us to do our best work, which is taking care of our kids.

About the Author

Dr. Crystal Thorpe is principal of Fishers Junior High School. She is the 2021 Indiana Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter (@thorpecv).


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