Editor’s Note: This letter was submitted to the Missourian on Wednesday evening. Late afternoon Thursday, Columbia Public Schools announced plans to implement a two-week mask mandate beginning Tuesday.

3,308. That’s how many active COVID-19 cases we have in Boone County as of Thursday.

For more than an entire week, we’ve beaten our record for active cases. Yet we still have no mask mandate? We’re sure that you know somebody with COVID; we’re sure everyone you know somebody who has died because of COVID. Yet we still have no mask mandate? Masks are proven to reduce the spread of COVID; we don’t understand how the Columbia School Board can live with the fact that its decision is making children sick.

People have argued against the need for masks in school by saying that “COVID doesn’t affect children.” Say that to the parents of Sebastian Moroney, Teresa Sperry, Leilani Jordan and more than 12,000 more who all had to bury their children after they lost their fight to COVID-19.

We don’t understand how the school board can be comfortable with its decision knowing that it could kill children. But this decision isn’t just affecting students. Fifty-nine Columbia Public Schools staff members are out right now with COVID or a COVID-related issue. CPS has a critically low number of subs and can’t even fill all the holes left by teachers, which is leading to the combination of classes leading to even more crowded spaces. With the missing staff, not only is the lack of a mask mandate jeopardizing the health of students and staff, but it also prevents students from receiving the best quality of education we can get. We deserve to receive a lesson designed for our class and not a backup one.

Omicron has become the dominant variant in the United States. It’s incredibly transmissible and thrives in crowded environments like CPS hallways. Yet instead of fighting this variant with protection such as masks, we aid it. Masks work. We know they do; we’ve seen countless studies. Yet instead of a mask mandate, we see our health, safety and education being withheld, and we will not accept it. Instead, we will walk, every day at 12 p.m. We will continue to walk, adding five minutes every day, until we are heard. We will continue to walk every day until you listen.

Leo Aber, Eli Allen-Thomas, Ada Chapman, Katherine Cox-Littrell, Meena Cullity, Quinn Felts, Tanith Frazier, Vincenzo Mogetta and Jennifer Pereyra are students at Battle, Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools

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