NEWTOWN, PA – Friends of Carolyn Austin returned to school for an in-person learning at Goodnoe Elementary in Pennsylvania’s Council Rock School District on August 30.
Much to her disappointment, Carolyn did not.
“I miss playtime with my friends,” she said.
The 9-year-old, who enjoys traveling and cooking, was diagnosed in June 2020 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Carolyn’s health was put to the test in just over a year, with her tiny body undergoing lumbar punctures, nasogastric tubes, bone marrow biopsies and chemotherapy treatments in addition to taking dozens of medications.
Catching COVID-19 would be another complication, explained his mother Elizabeth.
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Prior to Governor Tom Wolf’s masking order requiring facial blankets on K-12 campuses, Elizabeth Austin was too worried about her daughter’s health to send her back to class.
Carolyn is one of dozens of kids that parents at local school board meetings advocating for mandatory masks are focusing in their fight for the face covering. They said the disease, such as childhood cancer and other underlying health issues, made some children more vulnerable to the coronavirus. And while an infection for most children isn’t serious, it could be devastating for those who are already sick.
Carolyn’s school district started the year with an optional mask policy – which led her mother to opt for homeschooling for the young cancer patient.
“I think the least you can do is just wear a mask during a pandemic when it is recommended by experts, not just because my child is sick and I want people to be careful around. her, but because it’s a recommendation from experts in the field like what we should do, ”said Austin, who is also the mother of 11-year-old Jack.
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The week before school started, Carolyn was thrilled with the opportunity to return, her mother posted on Facebook.
“She insisted on going out to meet him (with her teacher), even though she had been given drugs, chemo and a needle stuck in her spine,” Austin wrote.
“Do you know how much you have to love your school to take a needle in your spine and then beg to meet with a teacher who you may or may not even get through the year? “
The Facebook post isn’t the only letter Austin wrote.
In the days leading up to the new school year, she reached out to the superintendent and school board members, sharing her daughter’s situation and advocating for a switch from optional masks to mandatory masks.
A request for comment from the USA TODAY Network to the school district went unanswered.
“I got a good email from one, a cold email from another, and no one else answered me,” Austin said.
She noted that for students with peanut allergies, other students are encouraged to leave nut-free products at home and wondered why a similar mask couldn’t be made for her cancer-battling daughter.
“Because the school can’t make these accommodations, I give her home schooling and pay out of pocket to make sure she gets a proper education,” she said.