Communities, scattered across the nation, differing in size, culture, and political preferences, are continuously processing what the term ‘pandemic’ means for the lives of their inhabitants. In Nevada it is no different. As government offered solutions are suggested, discarded, and, in some cases, repeated after almost two years of living with the virus popularly known as Covid-19, residents of cities across the state are discussing the notion of what they label ‘survivor fatigue’.
While acknowledging the immeasurable amounts of illness and unfathomable number of deaths wreaked by the virus, on those strangers, friends, and loved ones who live, or lived, among them, and accounting for the anguish and fear which has accompanied those losses, some in the Sagebrush state are asking what comes next. And the answer to that basic question has yet to be given, unknown even to the elected officials entrusted to find it.
For those whom Political.tips spoke to for this story, having thus far survived the virus, the specter of heading into a third year shadowed by looming uncertainty is especially arduous for those families with school age children. Throughout both the Northern and Southern regions of the state, parents in population dense areas such as Las Vegas and Reno have shared similar concerns to those residing in Elko, Gardnerville, and Winnemucca. Geographic location has been rendered irrelevant by the whispered questions and exasperated pleas to local school boards and county commissions, raised among pockets of the populace, including ones they say is fundamental to all parents.
“What happened to a parent’s choice?” “How does the government think it can step in and decide what’s best for my kid?” “Where does the Constitution say that a terrible tragedy means we’ve lost the right to raise a family the way even our pediatrician says is healthy?”
Earlier this week Political.tips ran a widely read exclusive exposing Governor Steve Sisolak’s plan to implement a sweeping Covid vaccine mandate for children in grades Kindergarten through 12th, encompassing those in both private and public schools. This decision, made by the Governor in full expectation that an Emergency Use Authorization would be granted by the FDA for a vaccine suitable for those children ages 5-11, came as a jarring reality check to a growing contingent of families.
Kevin Schwartz, a parent with children attending two different schools in the Carson City School District, has been working alongside others including Barb Mathers in forming a group that Mr. Schwartz stated is intended to ensure two goals.
“We want our basic human rights respected, and ultimately, to make choices relating to our children’s health without state intervention or interference.”
A passionate and prepared Ms. Mathers intoned that it was also about creating a mechanism to share relevant information and catalyze that into a show of civic minded strength.
“It’s about giving children the right over their own bodies, through those who know and can decide for them in the best manner, and that’s their parents! At the same time we want to reach out to those who are willing and ready to pull their kids from the districts or need clearer information on if it is a proper course of action for child and family.”
Entitling it ‘Concerned Parents Against Covid-19 Vaccine Mandates for Students’ and admitting to facing backlash that has come with starting a group that is clearly wading into such an inflammatory environment, the next question posited to those involved was if this was simply a partisan endeavor, another in a never ending effort at finding a wedge issue to turn people against the current Governor.
Schwartz disavowed the idea that what he and the group were looking to accomplish had any partisan intent, going so far as to volunteer his last political experience was more than a decade ago, door knocking for a then Senator Barack Obama.
“I spent a few weekends going door to door for Barack Obama’s presidential run.” Schwartz offered.
Continuing on, he acknowledged that this foray into such a controversial area could have repercussions, repercussions that in his estimation were worth the price of his group’s message.
“I work as a consultant and it’s not in my best interest to get in the middle of highly polarized political debates. I do worry that this will affect my career…”
Then with wistful confidence he finished rhetorically
“...but if I don’t speak up and say something, who will?”
In addition to building up a social media presence, including a Facebook group, they’ve begun circulating a survey to parents, sharing the results they’ve received thus far exclusively with Political.tips, in doing so two striking poll percentages stuck out.
As seen in the screenshots below, question number one references a survey participant’s willingness to go on record. Over 1/3rd of respondents were unwilling to.
When asked why so few would be willing to allow their answers to be publicly disseminated, the group's founders pointed out that a legitimate fear of potential public persecution and legal prosecution chilled the fervor of many.
According to Schwartz it’s gotten worse since the US Department of Justice issued their memo asking for those causing havoc at school board meetings to be reported.
“In Douglas County we have supporters who won’t even fill it out.”
“This DOJ probe into school boards is already working as planned.”
When asked about the idea of censorship and if it was a real phenomenon among those opposed to mandates, Mathers made reference to an op-ed she submitted to the Nevada Appeal. Revealing the full contents to us, a write up which expressed her personal views and history, and didn’t include medical advice or suggestions, she was asked if the Appeal ran it.
Her answer curt, her belief clear.
“It did not run.”
Question number two resulted in an even more staggering number. When asked if a Covid-19 vaccination mandate was put into effect for school age children would those answering be willing to unenroll their kids from the Nevada public education system? Nearly 95% stated they would.
The group agreed amongst themselves that if enough parents removed their children from the public education system, the local and state government would be forced to listen to them.
The Nevada Appeal was brought into the conversation again, this time by Mr. Schwartz.
“I know the Carson City School District is down over $2 million in state funding because enrollment was 260 kids less than they expected. In the recent Nevada Appeal article, Andrew Fueling tried to spin this as normal demographic changes but if you talk to local parents you will see it’s about parents being fed up with the public school system.”
The ‘Concerned Parents’ group followed up the above quote by sending Political.tips a number indicating that under their current metrics and formulation, the potential lost revenue from the proposed mandate is nearing 4 million dollars and increasing every day.
And when asked for a response to the desire for some educators and school staff, concerned over health risks associated with the virus and their constant exposure to large groups of unvaccinated children and teens, to see mandates enacted not only for them and their colleagues but also the students they teach and watch over, both Mr. Schwartz and Ms. Mathers acknowledged the complexity of having to parse the rights of one group at the expense of another
Going first, Ms. Mathers indicated this too came down to choice.
“It goes back to being a choice, if teachers don’t feel comfortable they can quit, just like we can choose to homeschool our children, Forcing kids to get the vaccine though, so they can keep teaching? That’s wrong too. The issue is about mandates, not personal decisions.”
Mr. Schwartz thought about it, and then parried the question back to us. Pointing out what he said was a scenario in which he was familiar.
“What about a teacher with a child, who will quit if the mandate goes through?”
After a long pause, he finished his thought.
“If a teacher thinks students should need to take a vaccine without any long term studies to keep them safe, I think they have their priorities mixed up.”
In addition to the efforts, challenges, and backlash that has accompanied Kevin, Barb, and their allies, others have rallied around the same advocacy issue. Brandon Burns who in addition to leading rallies in Clark County has successfully brought almost 50,000 people to his Facebook page Las Vegas Freedom of Choice, and Common Sense Nevada, a group formed by former public school teacher, leading political podcaster and avowed Constitutionalist, John Bruchagen.
With the Nevada Department of Health agreeing with the Governor, and Clark County School District President Linda Cavazos, who heads the board for the nation’s fifth largest school system , monitoring the possibility of a mandate, those in opposition seem to be fighting a battle that will continue to remain uphill. Yet, to Kevin and Barbara, and those in alignment with them, if they are allowed a voice, and a chance to be heard, the message is all they need.