Why Are James Craig and Sarah McIntosh Flip-Flopping on the District’s Mask Mandate?

During the March 8, 2022 JCPS Board meeting, Board Member James Craig surprised Board Chair Porter with a motion that would give Dr. Pollio the power to make decisions about whether or not to mandate masks based on CDC recommendations and current community levels, which included support for “masking while in the red.”

Here is the argument he made just five months ago:

Around the 4:30 mark of the clip from the March 8, 2022 meeting, above, James makes his motion, which reads:

My motion, should it be seconded and adopted, would authorize the superintendent to make a masking decision based on where the city of Louisville is on that CDC chart. This week we are in yellow. And so that motion would authorize the superintendent to make masks optional in schools so long that we remain in yellow or green. It would further authorize the Superintendent to return to mask requirements, should we get back into the red. 

Board Member McIntosh, who seconded his initial motion, made the following great points about predictability and trusting the health professionals. In her own words:

The motion, which included an amendment to revisit the decision in June, passed 4-3.

In favor: Craig, McIntosh, Duncan, and Marshall

Opposed: Kolb, Shull, and Porter 

Here’s Board Member Kolb’s powerful rationale opposing the motion, and in support of requiring masks.

Then in July, the JCPS Board unanimously approved the district’s recommended back-to-school protocols, which continued to incorporate the power that had been granted to the Superintendent, which consisted of continuing to follow CDC guidance and “mask while in the red.”

Less than a month later, after an outspoken anti-masker, anti-CRT JCPS parent Steve Ullum, who filed to run for school board against Craig, was involved with the recent “anti-mask” rally at Van Hoose, Craig and McIntosh seem to have done a complete about face. Rumors had been circulating prior to the first day of the school year that there would be an emergency board meeting where removing the mask mandate would be put up for a vote, despite the rapid spread of newest strain of COVID putting Louisville back in the red. That emergency meeting never happened, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Instead, he’s indicated his intention to bring it up at the August 16 work session. 

The teachers’ union leadership even inserted themselves in the process, conducting a mask survey that was compromised from the get-go. We heard from several people that the survey was promoted in the “Jefferson County Kids Matter” group, which has ties to the American Family Association of Kentucky, whose national entity is listed on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website as a designated hate group. We also learned that the survey could be taken more than once. We heard from one teacher who said she took it four times. When the media reported the questionable survey results, they noted that 3.5 times the number of members that participate in elections and other surveys. Well, no wonder! 

James Craig encouraged teachers to participate in the survey and, despite questions about the integrity of the results and red flags from teachers and other concerned stakeholders, it was shared with the media as valid and when these concerns gained traction, McKim “further verified” the data while they conducting a second survey using a more secure platform. A platform that they control, so therefore, we have to take their word for it that this time the results are accurate and representative of members’ opinions. The final tally came in at 52%, which doesn’t even provide a comfortable margin or error, especially when you consider it was only sent to JCTA members, not all teachers, and half of them didn’t vote at all.

But more importantly, none of this even takes into account the fact that a popularity contest based on a segment of the population that does not represent medical professionals, parents or students, nor does it take into account that the student population from school to school is wildly disparate. What may be fine in one school setting could create grave dangers in other settings. For example, as posted on Gay Adelmann’s campaign Facebook page, the vaccination rates between some schools in the East areas and magnet programs are above county averages of 65%, while vaccination rates in our highest poverty, highest minority populations, such as our Newcomers Academy are below 5%.

Meanwhile, nothing has been done to retract the misinformation shared by teachers’ union president, and Craig is now signaling that he will call for a vote on the mask mandates at Tuesday night’s meeting. McIntosh concurs.

But that’s not even the most compelling reason why our leaders should NOT CAVE to the pressures to prematurely remove the mask mandate. The continued protection of the health and safety of our students, staff and their families is the most important reason. Immunocompromised students and employees face an even greater risk than most, and we don’t have the right to leave a decision that could potentially kill them up to a popular vote. That’s what mob rule does. We don’t do that here.

The reason dropping the “mask while in the red” debate is even being considered at this point in the academic year, when back to school plans, staffing shortages, student assignment and achievement gaps should be at the forefront, is because of a vocal minority of people who have been radicalized by groups like the American Family Association of Kentucky continue to disrupt our meetings and bully our leaders and staff. Events such as the “anti-mask rally” at Van Hoose are not only intended to further dismantle what’s left of public education, but to recruit likeminded individuals nationwide who believe disinformation campaigns that purport that the 2020 election was stolen, teachers are “indoctrinating” students with “socialism” and “porn,” and that the insurrection was a “peaceful protest.” It is incredibly dangerous and short-sided to continue to allow them to not only influence board policy using lies and bullying tactics, but to humor them as if their concerns, while some are valid, take precedence over those who are in the highest risk categories and who have no other options.

This video below is a clip taken from Gay’s campaign page’s livestream prior to the start of the board meeting. JCPS Social Studies teacher Chandler Gies was being interviewed by a reporter about why he supported the continued mask mandate while our community is in the red. He outlines who the group is that organized the rally and what their motives are. Please watch and share.

We cannot allow our leaders to cave to these domestic terrorists who hold our democratic processes and the health and safety of our community hostage in order to continue to push a disingenuous and dangerous radical political agenda. And on November 8, we must vote out anyone who does.