Making the Choice to Care


Photo credit: Dan Gleiter

Mitch Marti

After attending so many School Board meetings, all of them marked by public outrage both for and against masking, I can effectively say that my heart is a little bit broken, but not for the reasons one may think. I have felt many types of pain in my life, but I have never felt so disheartened as to hear mental health be cited as a piece of evidence against masking, rather than an epidemic taking my peers away from me.


I do not care for your opinion on masking. I care about the lives this district has lost as a result of the mental health epidemic. As someone who regularly struggles with mental illness and disability, I can say with full certainty that masking at school has not worsened my condition. Rather, it is the lack of mental health resources in the district that is crippling myself and my peers. I can affirm, from personal experience as well as those of my peers, that calls for help tend to go unnoticed. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Better yet, does it really matter? 


The rejection and denial of our suffering worsens our conditions far more than the issue of masking. On Tuesday, February 1, 2022, over twenty parents protested this issue at a Board meeting for quite possibly the umpteenth time this year. I saw the signs with my own eyes. “Free our children’s faces.” “Two years too late.” And I agree. But not for the reason you would think. Because it’s not two years too late for the rest of us. For me, it’s more than seven. For some of my peers, more. 


Unlike these parents, I didn’t have the choice to care. Neither did my peers. 


We are a grieving generation in a world powered by the echo chambers of ignorance. The unremitting rejection and denial of our suffering worsens our conditions far more than the issue of masking. 


This generation has lost far too many alumni to suicide, including my friend Len Sassaman just a short while ago. And so I ask, why is mental health only discussed in the context of masking when I, at seventeen years old, have to learn to navigate the world without ever hearing my friend laugh again? 


Citing mental health as a reason against masking undermines mental health advocacy as a whole. To the Lower Moreland parents who showed up on Tuesday albeit in person or on Facebook, I urge you to ask yourself: Are mentally ill and disabled students really who you’re advocating for, or are they just pawns that you use to support your arguments. If the answer creates doubt in your mind or a stutter in your public comment, explore that. Sit with it. Because the rest of us didn’t have the choice to. 


All this to say, parents– it is time to start supporting students in the way they need to be supported, not in the ways which are convenient for you.