OPINION: Roberson shows leadership; the community should follow his lead

Published 1:38 pm Monday, August 16, 2021

Good leadership requires humility, wisdom, and courage, traits Oxford School District Superintendent Bradley Roberson demonstrated Aug. 2 with his order requiring masks for the start of school.

In making his decision, Roberson did what good leaders do.

He recognized that, while he may know many things, he does not know everything.

As his announcement demonstrated, he sought out the best-available, reliable information from local people who have the education, training, and first-hand knowledge of both the fast-changing realities of the Delta variant of COVID cases here and the increased dangers it poses to children and the larger community.

He listened, weighed the risks versus the benefits, and took action, even though he knew it would be unpopular, exercising the power that the governor gave him in an appropriate and restrained way.

All the overheated rhetoric about his decision (which came after case numbers began to spike in the days after the district’s board of trustees’ decision) show that many people have forgotten that we have a representative democracy, not a direct one, a system designed to allow leaders to balance competing needs for the community’s best interest in situations just like this one.

I also appreciate Roberson’s consideration of our children’s need to be in school, in person, as well as the burden on working parents and their employers if schools have to close because of large outbreaks, which has already happened in this state.

Unfortunately, the OSD Board of Trustees and Lafayette County Superintendent and Board, so far, seem to have the wrong end of the stick about how masks work in a school setting to protect children.

A mask on one child with responsible parents provides little protection in a classroom where asymptomatic, contagious children are crowded together.

Furthermore, their inaction has pushed a conflict that even adults don’t do a good job of discussing into the schools.

Lord knows our children and teachers don’t need any more distractions, not to mention peer pressure or bullying from either side, in the classroom.

Meanwhile in Tupelo, the city school board also realized that that they are not experts, and invited Dr. Mindy Prewitt, an infectious disease specialist with North Mississippi Medical Center, to make a public presentation about the issue.

After they heard from her, they decided that a mask mandate was the wisest course of action.

Here in Oxford, the very people whom local parents literally trust with their childrens’ lives — our wonderful local pediatricians, doctors and nurses — recommend the vaccine for children 12 and over and masks in school settings.

Last month, the Mississippi chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (Dr. Tanya Fitts of Lafayette Pediatrics is the incoming president) called on Gov. Reeves to make masks mandatory for K-12 in light of the changing dynamics and threat to younger children by the Delta variant.

This threat is real. As I write this, Tennessee’s children’s hospitals are at capacity with COVID cases. New Orleans’s children’s hospital is also full.

History will not be kind to the people who let children get sick and even die in ever-larger numbers because of political considerations, selfishness, or willful ignorance.

Even though most of the children will get better, too many of them will get sick without the mask mandate, and the ones who get very sick will have unnecessary medical bills. The chance of long-term complications is real too.

Sad to say, these children will have also had a painful object-lesson in how their community did not really care for them, saccharine social media posts from the first day of school and claims to be “praying for their protection” without acting to do so notwithstanding.

Risk and suffering are an unavoidable part of the human condition, no doubt.

But never would I have predicted that so many people in this community would normalize, rationalize, and even facilitate the suffering of others in such a callous way, especially when it costs them so little to mitigate it.

I should not be surprised but I am, and it breaks my heart, just as surely as I am kicking myself for being naive enough to think they meant it when they said they loved their neighbor.

Roberson made the right call, even if there are still too many here who do not yet recognize that, and he deserves our support.

Ellen B. Meacham is a resident of Taylor and an instructor of journalism at the University of Mississippi