Spring is in the air - it is time to allow our children to breathe. As we pass the one-year anniversary of “15 days to slow the spread” we have learned a lot about COVID-19, and we can put that knowledge to use by giving kids back their childhood. If children can ditch the masks for the remaining weeks of the school year they will thrive and be better prepared for the next school year.

Continuing to require students to wear masks seven hours a day is unnecessary and actually harmful to their development. We can continue to fight the battle over politicized “science,” but children should not be the casualties. What our children really need after the past year, and after a North Dakota winter, is to breath our fresh spring air and see the faces of their classmates.

Precautions must be taken, of course. Students with symptoms should remain at home, that is just common sense. Temperatures can be monitored entering school and perhaps throughout the day. But we should be able to agree that forcing students to be masked seven hours a day is not necessary, not helpful and is, in fact, harmful.

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What are we doing to our kids? A well-publicized study out of Germany last fall covered 26,000 children and examined the impairments and effects from student mask requirements, the findings are important. Sixty percent reported increased irritability, 53% reported headaches, 50% difficulty concentrating, less happiness - 49%, reluctance to go to school - 44%, impaired learning - 38%, there is more. And we wonder why students are falling behind?

Just last week there was an article in this paper about school officials struggling with a learning gap and some solutions being considered include extending the school year and tutoring. A good first step is to remove the mask mandate for students, let them clear their minds, and remove needless anxiety.

I can anticipate the response I will get from many. Teachers and administrators will be at risk if students are not masked. Like much of the “debate” about COVID-19 the pleas will be emotional and heart-felt. What they will not be is backed up by data, by science. Studies, mostly from Europe where they are allowed to study these things, show students, teachers, and administrators were at no greater risk to infection than the general population outside of the school when masks are not required.

Protective measures that actually work, monitoring symptoms and taking temperatures will provide a safe learning environment for all and much improved quality of life and education readiness for students. It is time to move forward and freeing students from mask mandates is where we start.

Our children long to see the faces of friends before the school year ends. They need to see the smiling face of their teacher, so important to them over the school year, but who has been hidden behind a mask. They deserve to talk without being muffled, to hear clearly at least for the last few months of the school year. We can set a positive tone. Let’s get the movement going, mask free before May!

Grande represented the 41st District in the N.D. Legislature from 1996 to 2014. She is CEO of the Roughrider Policy Center, an "innovation over regulation" think tank. She is a wife, mom, grandma, lover of life and Jesus. Opinions are solely her own.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.