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COVID Madness: A Tale of Two Schools

This week, the federal COVID 'emergency' finally expired, thanks to GOP prodding.  In honor of that belated milestone, please consider this case study examining how two different schools -- one in New York, the other in Florida -- handled the pandemic.  The schools' respective approaches represent extreme polar opposite ends of the spectrum.  Read on and determine for yourself where you'd have preferred to have your own children enrolled since mid-2020.  Let's begin in Ithaca, New York, a college town, where hundreds of children belonging to professors, doctors and attorneys attend a private school.  Their parents shell out $11,000 to $18,000 in annual tuition money, per child.  

In a report at the Free Press, journalist David Zweig (who did quite a lot of indispensable, rigorous, data-driven journalism about COVID) describes the madness that continues to grip this elite enclave.  Behold, the most insanely, stubbornly, superstitiously committed COVID holdouts:

Parents like Dr. Beth Stein, a physician and mother of two students, accepted the [school's initial 2020 pandemic] rules. She was grateful for her kids to be at school in person, knowing that plenty of children elsewhere in the country were stuck at home learning remotely. But by the fall of 2021, the continuation of the harsh restrictions worried her.  “I could tolerate most of the stuff—the teachers in N95s and face shields while standing behind plexiglass barriers, the 12 feet of distance for band members, the ban on singing ‘Happy Birthday’ in class. But I just wanted them to end the outdoor masking,” Stein, who is board-certified in public health and preventive medicine, said. Because of her complaints, she said her kids almost got kicked out. After she begged, Stein said, the school let them stay. But at the beginning of this school year, with no end to the interventions in sight, Stein finally pulled her kids from EACMSI. They now attend public school.  As of today, children at EACMSI are still required to mask indoors and outdoors. They are still prohibited from speaking during lunch. Second-graders who began school there as kindergarteners in fall 2020 have never experienced a normal day of school in their lives...

...The prohibition against lunchtime speaking varied depending on the teacher, according to Stein’s two children, and the parents of current students. (The school has no cafeteria, so lunch is eaten in classrooms.) Stein’s 13-year-old daughter said that, last year, her seventh-grade teacher often played movies like Elf and Coraline while the students ate. But, she said, there were also plenty of days where they simply ate in silence. If the students had to ask the teacher a question, she told me, they had to first don their masks, and then take them off again to continue eating. (The school administration confirmed that during lunch, if a student needs to speak to a teacher, they must first replace their mask.)  Parents of current students told me that teachers have shown TED Talks or instructional videos, or played podcasts to keep the students sufficiently entertained so they won’t be tempted to speak to each other. Teachers also conduct lessons or read a story during lunch. When the kids eat outdoors, they are permitted to talk. Other teachers are stricter. Stein’s younger child, now 10, described the bizarre—and sad—scene during her time at EACMSI before she left for public school this fall. Last school year, in fourth grade, some kids had grown so forlorn and desperate during silent lunch that they made up their own sign language so they could communicate with each other, she told me. 

There are many other details in the lengthy piece, including the school stonewalling Zweig's specific questions about tyrannical administrators' vague and questionable assertions justifying the ongoing policies. A few details about masked concerts, and the marching band performing through masks, outdoors, surrounded by maskless community members, only underscore how crazy this is. Another pull-your-hair-out anecdote notes how "seventh- and eighth-graders recently took an overnight trip to New York City, where masks were optional, and talking during meals was allowed, according to a parent of a current eighth-grader. Yet when they returned to school, the indoor and outdoor mask mandate and silent lunch were still in effect." So much 'Science.'  Relief, at long last, may finally be in sight, however, as the school has announced a plan to make masking voluntary in the 2023-24 academic year. I'd joke about them rushing into things, but it's not worth planting that thought with these people. Meanwhile, in Florida, the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto profiles a private school that may appear to be hippy-dippy progressive at first glance -- but has actually become an 'anti-woke fortress' since 2020:

You might call Centner [Academy] a countercultural campus; it calls itself “America’s Happiest School.” “Mindfulness is interwoven into the fabric of the school,” says my tour guide, Josh Hills, whose title—no joke—is director of brain optimization...At the school cafeteria, the food is “sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, non-GMO, all organic, locally sourced,” Mr. Hills says. Much of it comes from the Centners’ Regener8 Farm and Retreat half an hour away in Homestead. Mr. Centner says he and his wife intend “to tightly integrate it into the school . . . so the kids actually go to the farm and have curriculum to teach them about science, Mother Earth, grounding, mindfulness, entrepreneurship.” If you’re rolling your eyes, stop it. This New Age school is also resolutely and admirably antiwoke. Mr. Hills begins the tour by listing the three things he makes clear to visitors “before I let anybody into this building”...

First, “we have zero Covid policy at this point.” He doesn’t mean a zero-Covid policy; he means zero policy regarding Covid. Even by Florida standards, Centner moved quickly to return to normal during the pandemic, and its unorthodox approach drew indignation from local news organizations, one of which went so far as to urge the White House to intervene. Second, “CRT”—critical race theory—“doesn’t exist in this building. We are all created equal. We all have equal opportunities, and we’re not in the business of telling anybody they may or may not have more privilege . . . based on skin tone. We don’t play that game in this building.” Third, “we have a young men’s restroom and a young women’s restroom. We don’t allow anybody to pick what restroom they’re going to use.” If a pupil asks a grown-up about sex or sexual identity, “we say, ‘That’s a really great question. That’s probably a better conversation to have with your parent.’ ” The Centners didn’t start out as culture warriors. “What happened through Covid opened our eyes,” Mrs. Centner says. “Oh my God, there is so much going on that has been going on for the last 20 years that we need to make a stance against.”

Click through and read on about how this school brought in experts to brief parents on the inefficacy of masking in the early days, driving some families away, but creating loyal fans of others.  "At the time, normality was a brave act of defiance," Taranto writes, pointing out how some in local media tried to shame the institution, some even tattling to Washington and calling on the White House to intervene.  The academy didn't budge.  I reiterate my question: Which of these two places would you prefer your own kids or grandkids attend?  Since we opened this post with far-too-delayed progress on the COVID front, I'll leave you with an update below about a change in New Jersey's nutty mandates that persisted well into 2023.  Dr. Nicole Saphier (a preeminent oncologist and my Fox News colleague) had highlighted them in an essay outlining her personal ordeal, published recently in the Journal:

It’s 2023, and I still have to take a Covid test every week...Events have obviated any justification for vaccine mandates. It was clear by July 2021 that vaccinated people can contract the virus, and the vaccines’ efficacy plummeted when the Omicron variant took hold late that year. Three months after the third dose, boosted and unboosted people transmitted the virus at the same level. This was evident as many of my colleagues were out of work with Covid while I had to provide a negative test to show up to work. My autoimmune symptoms continued to worsen, but the workforce was so diminished from the virus that taking a sick day for a non-Covid reason was a disfavored option. Testing precautions for surgical patients have been lifted, visitor restrictions have eased, and most places have removed mask mandates inside healthcare settings. When Gov. Phil Murphy signed the health worker booster mandate, he proclaimed: “Over the course of our Covid-19 response, we have always followed the science in decision-making, and this is no different.” If so, it’s past time to end this pointless mandate.

Finally, just a handful of days later, the rule was jettisoned:


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