Tunnel vision and bad policy. In the case of public servants, when one allows oneself to be consumed by emotion and use those strong emotions (often hyper-focused on one thing) to inform one’s decisions, the decisions made are usually one-sided, lacking sound judgment and, overall, quite poor.
This is the case for Trustee Beth Oppenheimer who, at the February board meeting chose to keep masks mandatory for all BSD students and staff until the end of March based purely on emotion.
Listen below (or on YouTube) and ask yourself if this person is seriously considering all important, but competing, factors, weighing the pros and cons of each and using the best-available information to reach a solution that will be in the best interest of her constituency while making sound decisions on their behalf.
The audio quality was bad for people watching the meeting on zoom that evening but her nonsense can still be can still heard if the volume is turned up.
At the time of her comments, roughly 4,600 (4615 (3774 confirmed and 841 probable) people in Idaho had died with 408,000 recorded COVID positive cases. That’s heartbreaking and every death is tragic and terrible. But, first, that’s a calculated death rate of 1.1% which, in reality, is much lower since not every case is tested or recorded. According to the CDC, only 1 in 4 COVID positive cases are reported. Even if we’re optimistic about our testing and reporting of cases and say half of Idaho’s cases have been reported, that brings down the death rate to roughly 0.55% or, if we have a testing scenario similar to the CDC estimate, that brings it down to roughly 0.28%. Again, not to discount the tragedy of each and every life lost to COVID or any other disease, illness, accident, etc., but just to put it into perspective that, yes, many people have tragically died with or from COVID, but the death rate is still very small because so many people have contracted COVID.
Second, she says “each and every person has left behind a parent, a grandparent…an aunt, an uncle…”. According to the “Deaths by Demographic” tab on the Idaho COVID Dashboard, the average age of death due to COVID in Idaho is about 75. While some of the people who have passed do have living parents, aunts and uncles, the vast majority do not and certainly very few still have living grandparents.
Third, she does not make any connection between COVID protocol at school and COVID hospitalizations/death. She speaks as if it is a fact that large numbers of students will only get COVID at school if the pandemic protocols are dropped; bring it home; infect a parent, grandparent or sibling; who then is very likely to be hospitalized and die. We already know kids are getting COVID at school even though they’re wearing masks, aren’t going on field trips, some have erroneous rules such as elementary music being restricted to 15 minutes of singing time per class period total, etc. The COVID positive cases the school reports doesn’t distinguish whether or not transmission occurred at school, but it is curious that the case rates between Boise, Nampa and West Ada are pretty similar even though Boise has had the most strict protocol all year.
A few months ago, a parent in our group submitted a public records request to CDH to ask the percent of people who have been hospitalized or died of COVID who were directly infected by a school-aged child. CDH does not even keep track of this data. If the data is not important enough to track, how can our district make important decisions as a result of an unsubstantiated assumption? The parent who submitted the records request forwarded it to district administration, super independency, trustees and the CDH administrators who advise BSD on 12/6/21, prior to the December board meeting where covid protocol was on the agenda. No response was given from any of the aforementioned persons, with the exception of President Wagers, who did not address the specific information provided in his response.
Furthermore, by comparing everything to death, Trustee Oppenheimer is making an overly emotional and dishonest argument that is not grounded in reality and is designed to make those who disagree with her appear and feel guilty. We could trivialize anything by assuming someone could die if we engage in an activity. The same could be said about driving, swimming, riding a bicycle, skiing, walking to school, playing sports, playing on the playground or anything else because there is always some risk. The argument of doing “anything” to prevent hospitalization and death is not logical or reasonable because it’s not realistic. What has she done the last five years to prevent students and their family members from contracting and potentially dying from flu, pneumonia or a myriad of other conditions? Tragically, hospitalizations will happen, death will happen and we can’t wish or guilt it away or put the burden of preventing it on the backs of our children.
Trustee Oppenheimer trivializes the very real concerns of parents and staff who disagree with her by saying “ we’re arguing about masks …. People are dying and they’re leaving behind family members“. People are dying and it IS devastating. Comparing wearing a mask (or being worried about it) or missing out on some of the fundamental and irreplaceable experiences of childhood to someone dying is not an accurate comparison or tradeoff. It also does not address the very real consequences of masking particularly for children, assumes there are no long or short-term consequences and does not acknowledge there are (many) people with real struggles due to masking.
She is not the one who has to fight the child who hates wearing a mask every morning before school. She is not the one spending her money on doctor’s visits, prescriptions, special face washes, nasal rinses, lotions and creams for painful acne, skin rashes, cracked lips, sores or nasal infections. She is not the child who sits in class every day so uncomfortable or even in pain that she can’t concentrate on her work. She does not have to comfort her child who comes home from school every day with a headache or wakes up in the middle of the night because his skin rash or nose sores are so painful he can’t sleep. She doesn’t have to worry that her child may pass out or throw up during PE, is experiencing an increase in asthma attacks or getting in trouble for pulling their mask down briefly to catch their breath at the top of a flight of stairs. She doesn’t have to live in fear of reprimand or punishment from an overly zealous teacher or nurse.. She doesn’t have to grapple with the confusion of why masks are required at school, but not at sporting events or why some teachers enforce masking more strictly than others. She doesn't have to deal with a special needs child or one with a medical condition who is denied a mask exemption even with documentation of need from a medical professional. She doesn’t have to worry about anxiety, depression, speech delays, developmental delays, lack of social skills, learning loss, self harm or suicidal ideation. She can just feel like she’s “saving a life”, pat herself on the back and move on without thought, apparently, of the struggles hundreds or perhaps thousands of students and staff in the district she oversees deal with on a daily basis.
With such strong emotions and convictions, surely Trustee Oppenheimer would always be masked up during public events, especially when hospitals state-wide are under crisis standards of care, right? Afterall, she said herself in the video above “If we can do everything we can to mitigate that (COVID spread), I support it 100%” so, why wouldn’t she? Well, as it turns out…. not so much. We don’t know how often she goes out-and-about without a mask, but she did choose to attend a READY! For Kindergarten event in Emmett, ID and pose maskless with the Governor and a few others for a photo posted on Facebook on November 8, 2021, while our hospitals were still under state-wide crisis standards of care conditions, which weren’t lifted until November 22, 2021.
What is perhaps the pinnacle of this entire emotional charade is she apparently doesn't even believe what she’s saying. If she did, she wouldn’t attend an event unmasked or even remove it just for a picture. And she, as executive director for the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children (IDAEYC), would certainly require all attendees to wear a mask and practice social distancing at every READY! For Kindergarten workshop (or any other workshop or event) offered state-wide. Afterall, people are dying so why would anyone possibly worry or argue about wearing a mask to one of her agency’s workshops? How could she live with herself if someone contracted COVID at one of these events and passed it to a family member who ended up dying as a result? She did say “what I don’t want to see is a child in the Boise School District left without a parent, or a grandparent, or a sister, or a brother” and “I don’t want to see a parent losing a child or a child losing a parent. And it means that much to me. And I always look at it through that lens”. So, if she ALWAYS looks at it through that lens, wouldn’t the same logic apply to families attending her workshops? Well, as it turns out, attendees are NOT required to wear a mask or social distance at these workshops unless the host site requires it. And if an interested parent does not feel comfortable attending under those circumstances, is more vulnerable/lives with someone who is or simply would rather not attend in-person, IDAEYC will graciously ship them the materials so they can participate in the workshop from the safety and comfort of their own home. Very much like how BSD offers the Boise Online School to those with similar situations (or who simply want online school for another reason altogether). So, Trustee Oppenheimer follows a “personal responsibility/risk assessment” model for the workshops her agency provides, but not for the school district she oversees. Why is that?
Finally, Trustee Oppenheimer has been alerted multiple times by multiple people about the dire early literacy losses the 20/21 school year had on Boise’s economically disadvantaged students. That demographic is suffering far greater learning losses in Boise compared to the rest of the state and West Ada, presumably because the rest of the state was more successful at getting their students back in the classroom full time much earlier than Boise. How much worse will the learning losses be this year for Boise due to our hyper-focus on COVID compared to the vast majority of the state who chose to focus on education? As far as we are aware, she has yet to respond to a single e-mail on the subject and has not once addressed learning loss in a BSD board meeting. She is an advocate and spokesperson for the early education of young children, particularly the underprivileged, and yet she has no comment on how her decisions over the past 1.5+ years have impacted the students in the district she oversees or how to address those issues in the future.
What do you think about all of this? Please comment and tell the BSD administration, super independency and trustees your thoughts.
As an aside, H 631 Mask Mandate Prohibition passed the House and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee. Please e-mail the Committee Chair, Vice Chair and Senate Pro Tem requesting a hearing for this bill.