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BY KAITLYN BALLENGER

I spoke at the latest Volusia County School Board meeting Aug. 10 about my support of mandatory masks in schools in accordance with the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics.

I strongly support the reinstatement of the COVID dashboard, rigorous contact tracing, and appropriate quarantines — the majority who made public comment did.

With the delta variant raging, these measures are necessary to keep our children safe. It’s a matter of life and death — one in which our school leaders have chosen their own interests over the lives of our children.

I have corresponded by email with several of the board members and also made my views known to the superintendent.

Other school districts have set precedents and taken a strong stance in support of mandatory masking, despite the governor’s threats, and federal agencies have been working to coordinate aid in place of state funds. But still our School Board chooses to ignore these facts and place their own salaries above public health guidelines.

If you write our elected board members, most of them will tell you their hands are tied. It’s a matter of money: that if the governor makes good on his threats of withholding state funds, schools will be unable to operate.

What they won’t tell you is that VCS’ legal counsel stated in the last board meeting that the governor’s orders are “very likely unconstitutional,” and that VCS has the option to challenge the governor’s orders in court (as several other counties are doing).

Our children’s lives are worth those court costs. Court costs the county will incur regardless, considering several families are suing in claims that optional masking violates the ADA by failing to provide a safe and equitable learning environment for all.

But anyone who has been paying attention knows that VCS has a troubled history of caring for its disabled student population, so why change now?

But what struck me most about these interactions with our School Board is not that our elected leaders are unanimously spineless, but that, like many in our community, they face a problem of media literacy; a problem of equating “parental rights” and baseless, unprovable opinions and personal anecdote with provable, scientific fact. These are not equivalent.

In the age of digital information, media literacy (the ability to discern between credible and faulty sources) is vital to being an informed and contributing citizen, and it’s a skill several of our School Board members lack.

Above all else, our community leaders should put their own politics aside and discern truth from falsehood, but unfortunately, our School Board does not have this skill, and while some board members will claim they do, their actions speak otherwise.

And as I’ve always taught my first-grader, actions speak louder than words.

— Ballenger lives in DeLand.

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