Masks Becoming Optional in School

Carly Woodfield, Staff Writer

School during the pandemic has been an interesting journey. During the start of the 2021 school year in Washington, masks were required to be worn over the mouth and nose at all times besides when eating or drinking. For many, masking up was an attainable thing to do in order to come back to in person learning. For others, like young children who do not understand the purpose of the mask or are not used to the foreign object on their face for seven hours a day, it could be a struggle to be enforced by teachers and parents.  Masking for several hours a day, plus after school activities like sports or jobs, can take a toll on kids after a while. Furthermore, people have been questioning if a virus that has less than 1% chance of death reported in children was worth the intensive masking policy. At schools across Washington, the mask mandate has become optional. As of March 12 students are unmasking and getting back to normal. 

Students returning to school after almost two years being in masks is definitely a big change. There are many opinions on the schools decision to make masks optional and a choice. Some people are very against unmasking, while others cannot wait to show off their smiles again. Across the board, feedback from students has been positive and many are thrilled about having the right to choose back. Students opinions about optional masking were positive, for instance, senior Kylie Huesmoen feels that “it’s really good because we’ve been wearing our masks for two years and COVID-19 is slowly going away and it’s less harmful to people and I think it’s really good that we can take our masks off.” In agreement, junior Ethan Becerra says, “I like it, personally. I feel like we’ve been in school with them for long enough and it really hasn’t done a whole lot to lower numbers and COVID-19 is still spreading with masks anyway.” Sophomore Madeleine Evans replies, “I think it’s nice to have the choice of freedom whether to wear a mask or not.” Overall, the response from students has been good and students are pleased about not being forced to wear a mask in school anymore. 

With some students choosing to unmask while others keep masks on, there is bound to be some effect in having masks optional. Students were asked to share their belief on what may be the outcome of optional masking. Senior Sarah Burke shares, “I hope people don’t get mad at one another for their choice.” There is definitely potential for students to judge one another based on their personal choice regarding the mask. Sophomore Sarah Bishop says, “I hope it doesn’t cause COVID  to spread more. If it did, I would definitely support having the mask policy back in place yet I don’t think there will be a big effect.” Additionally Becerra shares, “I’m sure it’s going to cause a little bit of tension between people who aren’t wearing it and are. Overall, I think it will be a social change.” With that said, students’ main concerns seem to revolve around hopes of unmasking not contributing to covid spreads, as well as student conflict between those who choose to mask or unmask. Students also said they were looking forward to seeing people’s faces again and that it would be weird to see classmates for the first time eyes down. 

Students choosing to unmask and continue masking at IHS is pretty split down the middle. Some people are not wearing masks at all, some are only wearing masks in the crowded halls then taking them off in classrooms, and some are still masked up in one and sometimes even two masks at a time. People have many different  reasons for their decisions with this matter. Huesmoen expresses her thoughts and reasoning for her choice: “Yes, I will be taking my mask off, I am vaxxed and I have nobody in my family that would be endangered if I take my mask off.”  Likewise, Becerra says, “We all have the freedom to choose, and I’m going to choose not to wear one.” Freshman Lorelai Beernink adds, “I’ve noticed more people still wearing it but as the months go on and if it still remains I know more people will stop wearing them.” And lastly, Evans claims, “Mask off because I found masks really annoying and I don’t think I’m putting anyone in danger because I got my shots.” That being said, it is shown that with students who are in favor of not wearing a mask anymore believe they are safe without one, may that be because they received vaccines, or do not have family members who will be at greater risk of death, or simply do not enjoy masks and would love to have the freedom to have their face shown. 

Through the pandemic there have been many parents who are avid about having their children not wear masks at school, some are worried about how the masks will impact their children in a way more about their mental well being, and not necessarily with worry for the covid virus because science has displayed it does not affect children as it does the elderly. In an article by Deseret News , they expressed some of the outcomes and effects masking on children could implement. For instance, “The teacher said she saw emotional strain under last year’s mandates. ‘Children rely on facial expressions to interpret what they hear. They respond to facial cues to interact and respond appropriately to teachers and peers.’ The harm done when that key part of human interaction is eliminated should not be underestimated.” Children who are young and being in school being one of the first major places children learn to socialize with others, it is crucial they can fully indulge in that, so with not being able to view others facial expressions and lips when talking, this may be harmful and hurt their learning of socialization. This is not the only issue masking can have on children. Deseret News also says, “Many teachers dealt with significant behavior issues last year. She is seeing children who have developed an unhealthy worry that they will make everyone around them sick.” Teaching children that if they do not wear a mask will result in people becoming sick and dying may not be the best approach to deal with the pandemic especially with children being so impressionable at a young age. This resulting paranoia can lead to unnecessary fear in children. In all that said, it was concluded that “many parents and teachers who dealt with the physical, psychological, and emotional effects of mask mandates last year, that’s not enough evidence to subject children to masks again.” With this conclusion from Deseret News, hopefully unmasking children will allow for better social interactions and better learning ability without the distraction of the mask. 

Overall, with masks being an option now at school, this allows both people who want to wear their mask to continue to do so, and people who feel safe taking their mask off both have the freedom to do so. There are many states before Washington that removed their mask policy earlier on, with Washington state also moving away from the COVID-19 restrictions, this means we are closer to an end of the pandemic and normal being reinstalled. At the end of the day everybody should respect one another’s decision to choose to unmask or mask.