On Friday afternoon, the Washington Post published what can only be described as a hit piece attacking Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), my employer. The conspiracy theory riddled article, “Koch-Backed Group Fuels Opposition to Mask Mandates, Leaked Letter Shows,” aims to discredit IWF by implying that we are part of a coordinated right-wing effort to undermine public health measures and stoke anger at school officials.
Worse, the broader implication is that parental pushback against child masking (and other controversial issues in education) is not sincere, civil, or legitimate.
While there are many misrepresentations in the Washington Post story, the most problematic and consequential is the misleading suggestion that irrefutable scientific evidence supports the masking of young children. This we cannot let stand.
IWF’s “leaked” letter was easily obtained behind a $5 paywall. I wrote it during my maternity leave this summer, expressing concern to the head of my son’s preschool about masking very young children. This wasn’t part of my job at IWF, nor did I receive remuneration from the Koch Foundation or anyone else to write it, and — just to set the record straight — IWF hasn’t received funding from anyone to specifically weigh in on the school masking issue.
Thinking it might be helpful to other parents, IWF recently shared the letter with members of Independent Women’s Network (our members-only platform) after removing my name and other personal information. The letter is just one of many resources offered in the Network’s Resource Center, such as resources for writing a letter to the editor, filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, getting more involved in local school districts, among other things.
Washington Post reporter (or more accurately, activist) Isaac Stanley-Becker might have known some of these details had he bothered to reach out to me, but he didn’t. Nor did he bother to actually engage with the substantive claims of my letter.
Instead, the Washington Post mischaracterized the letter as ideological, inflammatory, inaccurate, and even extreme. And the paper paired the report with a stock photo of a woman, mask down, angrily yelling at a school board meeting (as if to suggest that IWF encourages disruptive behavior — we don’t).
We believe that Washington Post readers deserve to see the full letter and come to their own conclusions about its tone and content. Since the Washington Post didn’t originally post the full letter for its readers to review and since neither IWF nor I have any shame in our “leaked” document, we have gladly made it public.
We also hope that sharing the letter will bring attention to the heart of the matter: the science.
The first sleight of hand that Stanley-Becker uses to paint IWF as anti-science is to confound two distinct issues: Masking in general and masking of young children in particular. In all of our public commentary on this issue, IWF has focused on young children, and this was also the focus of my letter, which is clear in the text.
Despite the extreme policy supported by the CDC to begin masking at age 2, there has been no study to date that supports the effectiveness of masking in the preschool population. “We lack credible evidence for benefits of masking kids aged 2 to 5, despite what the American Academy of Pediatrics says,” Jeffrey Flier, former dean of Harvard Medical School, has said.
There are several studies that look at the K-12 population, but it’s understandable if some K-12 parents do not find these studies convincing because of their shortcomings.
David Zwieg, writing for New York Magazine, reviewed 17 studies cited by the CDC as evidence on masking and “not one study looked at student mask use in isolation from other mitigation measures, or against a control.” One notable study of elementary schools in Georgia with a large data set found that masking teachers and staff and improved ventilation were effective strategies, but no statistically significant correlation with masks on kids and lower transmission.
Meanwhile, other nations — like the U.K., Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and others — do not mask their small children. There’s no evidence of higher levels of outbreaks in schools in those countries versus the U.S.
And as Dr. Vinay Prasad of UC-San Francisco pointed out in The Atlantic, in Spain, where 6-year-olds are required to mask (but not 5-year-olds), there’s no sudden drop-off in transmission rates between 5- and 6-year-old kids. Instead, transmission rates steadily increase with age.
Given this information, parents are right to question child masking policies without being demeaned or personally attacked. The Washington Post, in Isaac Stanley-Becker’s latest piece, has not offered a fair and accurate report but rather has joined ranks with other bullies and bad actors who yell and point fingers or accuse the other side of terrorism before even attempting to understand the full picture.
They accuse IWF of inflaming an already heated debate. We aren’t guilty of that. They are.