Many are conflicted when it comes to the mask mandate being lifted at J-DHS. Some believe it’s too soon, while others have been encouraging it for months. As of March 15, about 75.9% of New York State’s population has been recorded to be fully vaccinated. With these reassuring numbers, most people are more comfortable taking their masks off. However, there are still many that prefer staying masked.
“I do think that I have noticed that probably the first day was about 50/50. Now it might be about 80/20. I think as the weather gets nicer, windows are open, etc, it will probably go higher, but the students so far have been great. They’ve been great through all of this, and very supportive of one another and supportive of each person’s right to choose, which I think is most important,” J-DHS Principal Paul Gasparini says.
In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams has revealed that if COVID numbers remain low, masks will become optional for children ages 2-4 in schools and daycares on April 4. The risk level hasn’t changed since March 7, when the mask mandate was originally lifted in New York State.
“We have been very consistent in following regulations. Once the governor and the county executive declared that schools could be mask-optional, we followed suit,” Gasparini stated.
“I think [the mandate being lifted is] a nice first step towards normalizing school a little more. We’ve had a lot of anxiety over the past several years and people seeing one another’s faces I hope goes a long way towards minimizing that anxiety,” Gasparini added.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the county’s COVID levels remain low. Over the past 14 days (3/9-3/22) the J-D district has had 23 positive cases. In Onondaga County, an average of 159 cases a day was reported on 3/22.
“We will follow the guidance and regulations that the Onondaga County Department of Health and the State Department of Health put out. We simply follow guidance and regulations from the departments of health,” Gasparini responded when asked what would happen if COVID levels were to rise at J-D.
J-D students and teachers have voiced various opinions about the mask mandate.
J-DHS art teacher Ashlee Childers shared her opinion on the situation. “I’m happy to see my students’ faces again, but I know there are lots of life and family circumstances that could make people feel anxious about the mask mandate being lifted. I’m hopeful that better times are ahead. I do feel safe coming to school without a mask and know numbers will continue to improve as we come out of winter. Many of my students were excited to go without masks, some waited a few days, and a few are still wearing them. We’ve been wearing them for such a long time that it’s understandable some would be nervous to go without them.”
“At the start of this school year, I was unsure on if and when the mandate would be lifted, especially with the Omicron surge. As we moved through January into February there was speculation that the mask requirements would be lifted. I thought that Governor Hochul would wait until at least mid-March, to see the data from winter break travel. However, when the CDC changed its guidelines it did not surprise me that NYS responded by lifting the mask mandate. I have made the personal choice to continue wearing my mask. As I told my students in the days leading up to the new mask policy, I have made my decision based on my family. I have two toddlers in daycare who are not eligible to be vaccinated. In addition, my parents and in-laws, despite being vaccinated and fully boosted, are considered a ‘vulnerable’ group,” J-DHS Global teacher Jamie Crawford stated.
Crawford elaborated, “On Wednesday, March 2 [when the mandate was lifted], you could tell that many students were a little uneasy and unsure on whether they should continue wearing their masks. Students would walk into a class and sit down and if their peers next to them were wearing a mask, then that student would put theirs on. Wednesday through Friday I observed numerous thoughtful interactions between students and staff. From what I have observed, students have responded very well to the end of the mask mandate. I still have students in each of my five classes that have continued to wear a mask. These students represent the minority but it appears that those students are comfortable with their unmasked peers around them. I do not know how long I will continue to wear a mask at J-DHS. For me, the mask still offers me a level of comfort as we navigate our way through the next phase of the pandemic.”
Sophomore Sophia Zoghby shared her opinion, stating, “I think it should have been lifted, but if the numbers go up again, I think they should go back to [wearing masks] because some people are just forgetting that COVID is still there. Also, in certain situations, like if you’re going to visit a nursing home, I feel like you should [wear a mask]. Everyone’s still at risk so you should wear a mask.”
Sophomore Kanami Laclair said, “I think [the mandate being lifted] is a good step towards normalcy, but also if someone’s feeling sick and they’re not wearing a mask, that’s kind of stupid. Protect yourself, but also protect other people.”
“I think that it’s a good step that we all were able to take our masks off. I feel like it really brought the energy of the school up the first day masks got lifted because everyone was able to see what everyone looked like after COVID and not seeing everyone. Then, getting [the masks] off was a step to normal again,” sophomore Emily Bulone added.
Unless COVID cases rise to the levels seen in the Omicron surge, it is unlikely that the mask mandate will be reinstated at the J-D School District.