By John Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.
Smiling faces returned to my school bus on March 2. That’s the day the mask mandate was lifted by the public-school district I drive for in the Mid-Hudson Valley. There were scenes of jubilant celebration reminiscent of Times Square on V-J Day in 1945 as anti-maskers on our staff laughed and hugged and greeted each other as if they hadn’t seen each other in decades. On my bus, the reaction was more muted.
All through the pandemic, the kids I’ve driven have taken masks in quiet stride. None refused to wear them. None ever complained. Approximately 250 elementary, intermediate- and middle-schoolers have graced my big yellow madhouse during that time. If they forgot to bring a mask, they asked me for one. I usually had a supply handy unless I’d run out mid-trip due to high demand.
So when the mandate was finally no more, the kids came aboard as if nothing much had happened. There were a few jokes about smiles, and a second-grader said to me, “You look different.”
“I’m not wearing a mask,” I told him.
“Why are you wearing a beard?” he asked.
(It’s a disguise, kid. Don’t tell anyone.)
All along, adults have been the ones raising a mighty stink and turning school board meetings into rant ‘n rage fests, some of which required a police presence in nearby districts. My mind boggles when I look at the brave, unified response of the Ukrainian people to the brutal Russian invasion of their country. Then I think about how millions of Americans have whined and howled and stamped their feet at the insufferable hardship, the terrible tyranny, of having to temporarily wear a little piece of cloth on their faces to ward off a potentially lethal virus.
To boggle my mind even more, the superintendent of my district felt compelled to send an email to all staff members, parents and students requesting that students who choose to continue wearing masks not be bullied or harassed. It’s a strange statement to make about human beings that they will harass or bully other humans for individually trying to prevent the spread of a harmful disease. Giving them hell for wearing a mask is like assailing them for wearing a hat. How does it harm anyone else?
And then we have imbeciles like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
On the same day my district lifted its mandate, DeSantis spoke at a news conference at the University of South Florida, where he chastised a group of Middleton High School students behind his podium.
“You do not have to wear those masks,” he said. “Please take them off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything. We’ve got to stop with this Covid theater. So if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous.”
Some of the students removed their masks. At least one said he felt pressured.
That politicians like DeSantis have turned a simple preventive measure into a successful, fiery crusade and divisive issue speaks to the utter absurdity of the political climate in this nation. Again, I direct your attention to Ukraine where even elderly people are heeding a call to arms to defend their nation from a ruthless invader. They are passionately giving up their lives and comforts. Here, we can’t stand being told to watch out for others’ health by donning a piece of cloth.
Beam me up, Scotty.
So far I have seen no harassment of the kids on my bus who have chosen to keep wearing a mask. I’d say the total is as high as one-quarter of my current riders, or about 12. There hasn’t been a peep about it from anyone. I’m keeping a supply handy just in case I get a request or another outbreak requires a mandated return.
And as for me, I’m going maskless … for the most part.
I’ve had Covid. I’m fully vaxxed and boosted. I feel fine. On my bus, there is always fresh air circulating around me — via a window, the door, the fans above the dashboard, or the heaters — and no passenger is close for more than a second or so. But when I’m in places where most people are wearing masks, I’ll put one on. I don’t mind but I mostly feel compelled to do it by the politics of this situation. I don’t want those people to feel uneasy or that I’m against them.
Call me a virtue signaler. I don’t give a plump rodent’s caboose. I actually take comfort in knowing that by wearing a mask I’m knotting the knickers of nitwits like Ron DeSantis.
Having to even consider all of this is a ludicrous state of affairs.
John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website Celestialchuckle.com (https://celestialchuckle.com) with the meter running.