How is it that a commonsense health protocol — the wearing of a mask — has become a figurative hill to die on when refusing to wear a mask actually could result in serious illness and literal death?

Even more incomprehensible is that the most active battleground today on this issue is within our schools.

Across the country, school leaders and parents are facing off on requirements that children be masked up during the school day.

Some school districts are implementing mask mandates. And that is being challenged.

Some are making masks optional. And that is being challenged.

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There are shouting matches and demonstrations and litigation and petitions.

All of this turmoil is mystifying in the face of some simple facts: COVID-19, thanks to the delta variant, is on the rise; children cannot be vaccinated currently against the deadly virus; hospitalization rates of kids with COVID-19 are climbing; for people who cannot be vaccinated, masks are the only measure of protection short of isolation; there is broad consensus that in-person learning five days a week is the ideal teaching environment.

Do the math: Universal masking of school students is a no-brainer.

But the discussion has devolved from science-based best practices to a fists-in-the-air claim of personal rights.

To the parents who insist that masking of kids should be a family decision, do you not see that your family's decision co-opts the decision-making of others? You are part of a broader community. A decision by you affects your community. The fact is, your mask protects me and my mask protects you.

And what of the right-minded concern for kids who are immunocompromised or who are dealing with a disability that makes them more vulnerable to the virus or the consequences of contracting it? Hear this: It is arguably a civil rights issue.

It was sobering to read a petition launched by parents of children enrolled in Pittsburgh-area Catholic schools demanding the diocese abandon its mask mandate, which was announced last week. In part, the petition reads: "There is a growing concern that parents are losing their rights to do what is best for their children. We must stand up as parents and as a community and say enough is enough."

Really?

What about standing up for the social values promoted by the Church and, presumably, by those who are a part of the Church's school community: care for your brother and your sister?

Here are some more facts:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students (ages 2 and older) and visitors for K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. President Joe Biden is threatening legal action against any states that try to prevent mask mandates in schools.

It boils down to this: Universal masking is the only way to safeguard in-person learning five days a week with minimal quarantine-based disruptions. The states should mandate it. But lacking the courage to do so, school districts should step up. And parents should capitalize on this teachable moment and instruct their children in the concept of the greater good.

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