AKRON, Ohio — The youngest person who spoke in favor of masks at Wednesday night’s school board meeting in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, decided she wasn’t going to let anti-maskers steal her thunder.
Before 10-year-old Kaylan Park stepped up to the microphone at the contentious meeting, she had watched other pro-mask speakers get interrupted by heckles and boos from people who oppose the district’s mask mandate. A couple of those opponents ended up walking out of the meeting in anger.
Critics were protesting the district’s decision earlier this month to extend its mask mandate until at least Oct. 29 to protect students and staff against COVID-19.
But Kaylan, a fifth-grader, didn’t let the tense environment intimidate her.
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‘You guys should be able to know that masks save lives’
“It is super weird to be here because adults don’t think that their children should wear masks,” Kaylan said when it was her turn to speak. “…A lot of you guys are adults. You guys should be able to know that masks save lives.”
When some audience members voiced disagreement, Kaylan responded: “Can I please speak? Let me speak before you guys go off.”
Her demand was met with applause.
But some audience members continued talking, which prompted Kaylan to say emphatically: “Please be quiet…It’s inappropriate that you guys can’t stay quiet.”
Kaylan, who was wearing a mask bearing the message “Masks Save Lives,” noted that donning a face covering is an act of kindness toward others.
“You’re doing it for your safety,” she said. “It’s like kindness. My teacher tells me when you do something for other people, they can do it back. Wear a mask for them and they’ll wear it back. Just wear a mask for kindness. You’re showing kindness.”
Some audience members stood up and applauded and others were seen patting Kaylan on the shoulder after she returned to her seat.
Board meetings typically occur in the high school library, but Wednesday’s session was relocated to the Natatorium and police presence was requested after the previous meeting last month was cut short when several people refused to wear masks.
Facial coverings are not required where the meeting took place.
When discussing the mask mandate at the conclusion of Wednesday’s meeting, Superintendent Dr. Todd Nichols pointed to Kaylan and said, “The reality is, I need to keep her in class.”
Cuyahoga Falls Board of Education President Karen Schofield said Kaylan’s interaction with audience members served as a reminder that listening respectfully to different perspectives is an important element of civil discussions.
“Whether you’re a child or whether you’re an adult, I think continuing to conduct yourself responsibly and respectfully is still an ingredient [of civil discourse] regardless of where you stand on a particular issue,” Schofield said. “[Kaylan] just reminded us that to have civil discourse, one needs to listen respectfully.”
Follow Phil Keren on Twitter: @keren_phil