By: Grace Tolla
On Tuesday, March 1st, the Stamford Public Schools District voted to drop the city-wide mask mandate for all students. This came as a response to Governor Ned Lamont choosing to drop the state-wide mandate in schools, leaving it up to the superintendent and board of education to decide. On Wednesday, March 2nd, students across the district were finally permitted to remove their masks, after almost two years of fear and hesitation.
As time has passed, we have seen a slow increase in the number of students who feel comfortable removing their masks, as well as when and where they do so. On the first day, students reported seeing about 80% of students remaining masked, but since then, it has decreased to about 40 or 50%.
“When the mask mandate was lifted I stopped wearing masks in class and the Agriscience Building but kept it on while in the hallways. I mainly did that because there’s a greater exposure due to the number of kids you see in the hallways between class periods. I also switched from a KN95 to a regular cloth or paper mask. From what I’ve seen around school, a lot of other kids are doing the same thing or have dropped the masks altogether, but there’s also a large group of students who have chosen to keep their masks on,” said Meghan McLaughlin (‘23).
Students have tried to observe patterns, looking for more or less mask-wearing in certain demographics of people, organized by gender, level of difficulty of the class, location, and more. This brings up an interesting argument about the thought processes people are using to make their personal choices.
For example, on the first day, it seemed as though more boys had chosen to remove their masks than girls. The girls who did choose to take them off chose to wear makeup, on the basis that many more people would see their faces than previously. This suggests that boys are more careless about their appearances, less focused on the idea that removing the masks reveals your face and more on achieving comfort. One student even pointed out that it seemed like more kids were wearing masks in his higher-level courses, such as honors and advanced placement. By location, masks are seen being worn in the hallways during passing time more than anywhere else, because of how close everyone is forced to stand due to the closed quarters.
The removal of the mask mandate brings up many questions about the psychological impacts of a global pandemic on high schoolers who are already prone to insecurity. Many students have chosen to remain respectful of others and not to let this choice divide their friendships, as we were concerned it would. It is a powerful experience to see other students respecting personal choices, at least in public. Questions such as, “what made you decide to take it off?” or “why are you keeping your mask on?” have remained largely unsaid, preventing potential debate and conflict.
“I’m not really paying attention to what other people are doing with their masks. I really see it as a personal choice, and it doesn’t bother me at all. My mask-wearing depends mostly on what class I am in, and where I feel comfortable. I am not using other people to decide,” said Teo Boruchin (‘23).
Positively, seeing people’s faces and hearing voices more clearly seems to have increased social interaction. The lunchrooms are as rowdy as ever, and it has been great for maskless students not to repeat themselves so often, now that the barrier is gone. Classroom conversations are louder than teachers ever realized, even if students aren’t speaking more than before. Clearer speech allows for more efficient classroom instruction, as teachers can be better heard when lecturing the class. At the elementary and pre-school levels, teachers and administrators have been seeing the negative effects of mask-wearing on students who are first learning important life skills, such as reading people’s faces and pronunciation. Dropping the mandate will improve the social and emotional well-being of those students by increasing their communication skills and preventing further setbacks on their paths to becoming successful students and humans.
“I think the dropping of the mask mandate is very indicative of a much more positive time in our lives. All I can do is hope that we don’t relapse into a time with a lot of COVID-19 cases. I am excited to see where this takes us and looking forward to a time where we can treat COVID-19 like the common cold,” said Austin Tovar (‘22).
“I am currently fine with not wearing it at all, like in my classroom and in the hallways. I respect everyone who chooses to continue wearing it. I’ve been noticing about a 50/50 breakdown between people who are still wearing it and those who have chosen to take it off, but people mostly wear it during passing time. It’s been really nice to see people’s faces again,” said Mr. Matthew DiGiovanna, a digital art and photography teacher.
Overall, although a controversial choice, the mask mandate has resulted in a lot of change for the students and staff of Stamford Public Schools. As a community, we learn more about each other through seeing the results of this decision and begin to reform our relationships with one another. Hopefully, this remains the best decision for our health and safety and we can attempt to return to our pre-pandemic reality.