KRUTA: Note To Jen Psaki — It’s Great Your Kid Can Tolerate Masking Up For School. Mine Can’t

(Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

Virginia Kruta Associate Editor
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White House press secretary Jen Psaki held up her own rising kindergartener as “proof” that kids can tolerate being masked at school.

In response to a question from Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy about the possible academic and psychological effects of keeping kids in masks all day, Psaki said that her own child was ready to wear a mask all day for school.

And maybe in her child’s case that’s true. But what about the kids — and they are legion — who can’t tolerate the masks? What about the kids with sensory issues who go into a state of panic when something covers their faces? What about those who develop contact dermatitis or acne because the mask that’s supposed to keep COVID out also keeps bacteria in? Or those who simply miss social cues that come from being able to read people’s expressions?

All of those are legitimate questions and should be addressed on an individual basis rather than under a blanket one-size-fits-all policy that inevitably leaves some kids falling through the cracks. But to counter Psaki’s personal example, I’ll just give one of my own.

I have two daughters who normally don’t even mind wearing masks but occasionally have issues that make wearing them problematic. They both suffer from severe seasonal allergies that compromise their breathing on and off through several months of the year. Daily medication helps, but it often leaves them drowsy and rarely solves the problem entirely.

Putting a mask on top of that makes them feel as though they are struggling to breathe even more than they already were — and asking them to keep it on while engaged in physical activity in their gym classes only adds insult to injury.

And God forbid they have the misfortune to sneeze — the dirty looks from other students and teachers if they cough, sneeze or even clear their throats was enough for them to ask if they could stay home on several occasions just to avoid the hassle. Not to mention the fact that sneezing in a mask is, to quote my oldest, “just nasty.”

And that’s not even the best part. In addition to their allergies, both of these girls also have congenital hearing loss. They have hearing aids, and they wear them, but they also compensate in part by reading lips and facial expressions. Guess what they can’t do if everyone is wearing masks that cover half of their faces?

I mentioned their issues to a friend, who suggested that we ask for a medical exemption — and it is something I have considered. But then I wondered how the school might handle such exemptions, and if social media is any indicator, the answer is: not well.

I saw at least one story about a child with a medical exemption, and he was effectively treated like a leper. His desk and his things were kept “a safe social distance” from the other children and he was not permitted to even use the same restroom as the others in his class.

Imagine subjecting any child to that, much less teenage girls.

So I outsourced for other possible solutions. I mentioned my daughters’ plight on Twitter, and was immediately lectured by a stranger who accused me of forcing my politics onto my children. She told me that I needed to make sure my children masked up to protect the other kids and the question I couldn’t shake was simple: “Who’s going to step in and protect my kids?”

Who’s going to make sure they can breathe in P.E. class? Who’s going to make sure they’re not missing half the lesson because they can’t hear the teacher and his or her face is hidden? Who’s going to make sure they aren’t being treated like Patient Zero if the pollen count is high and they have to clear their throats a few times?

As kids return to the classroom in the coming weeks, those are questions that still need answers.