81,800 of Loudoun County’s 82,000 students wore masks. Guess which ones the media wants to talk to

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Loudoun County has kept its mask mandate in place despite Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s order barring schools from such policies. And most students have complied: Out of 82,000 students, just 200 showed up without masks on Monday, and most agreed to put on a mask when asked to do so, according to the district.

If students refuse to put on a mask, the district told HuffPost, the school would “send them to a common area, such as the auditorium, where they could access the Schoology platform to continue their school work. They were encouraged to email teachers if they had questions and teachers stopped by throughout the day to help students as their schedule allowed.” 

So: The vast majority of Loudoun County students have continued wearing masks. And, yes, the ones who haven’t have been separated from classmates who are following the rules.

But that’s not how anti-maskers paint it. The original story that got Republicans—all the way up to Trumpist ghoul Stephen Miller—worked up came from a parent … a parent who is an anti-mask activist. 

I’m sorry, I’m going to try to keep it together,” Megan Rafalski said on a right-wing radio show, “but we’ve gotten to a point—it’s unbelievable what they’re doing to our kids. They won’t let my son go to his classroom because he won’t wear a mask, because he’s exercising his rights, and they’re forcing him to sit in the office. He’s been strong-armed and intimidated by his principal and many others.”

You know what? Students in schools are constantly strong-armed: to sit still and listen when the teacher is talking, to not lob spitballs, to eat their vegetables at lunch, to do their homework, not to text their friends during class. It’s called following the rules. It’s kind of a thing in schools. But these parents don’t think their kids should have to follow this rule, and there’s a whole right-wing media ecosystem ready to blow it up into a giant scandal.

The Loudoun county school board is out of control,” the head of one right-wing group tweeted. “Basically threatening kids with suspension if they do not wear masks in schools. We need to make sure that there are consequences for these people.”

This is a country where students—girls, specifically—are regularly suspended for dress code violations, which is to say, showing a little more skin than some administrator is okay with. But a few inches of fabric or filter as a public health measure? Going too far, say Republicans.

In this case, an anti-mask activist sent her kid to school without a mask looking to cause trouble, then went straight onto a conservative radio show to complain about it, after which exaggerated versions of her claims launched directly into the tweeting fingers of a range of prominent Republicans.

Now that a media narrative about this outrage is established, there’s a feeding frenzy as reporters look for anti-mask students to tell their tales of woe, with those students getting far more attention than the vast majority of students who are wearing masks. The 81,000+ students who wore masks are getting far less media attention than the handful who made a big thing of refusing to follow the district’s rules.

Meanwhile, a group of anti-mask adults heckled students wearing masks and tried to get them to take their masks off by offering donuts. And then there’s this context that the sob stories about anti-maskers are not for the most part offering: As David Waldman tweeted, “140,576 Virginians have tested positive for COVID-19 and 199 more have died since @GlennYoungkin ordered the state’s public schools to drop their mask mandates.”



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