By Hannah Dalton
For over a year now, we have been living with a constant fear of the COVID-19 pandemic, making sacrifices everyday to keep ourselves and others safe. With the COVID restrictions recently changing, our country and island are seeming to be the most normal they have been since last March. The masks are starting to come off, gatherings are getting larger, and families and friends are coming together once again. While the school system has not fully adopted all the changes many island residents and businesses have, they certainly are not unaffected by them, and the school expects to return in the coming fall without masks or social distancing.
Beginning on May 29, 2021, nearly all COVID restrictions previously in place in the state of Massachusetts were dropped. This of course was based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and majorly related to the highly effective vaccines becoming so widely available. While our state is not completely normal yet, the high vaccination rates have given many people the opportunity to head in that direction. For example, fully vaccinated individuals can now go inside businesses and other establishments maskless as long as the owner permits them to do so. This is one of the most noticeable and significant changes we have seen since masks were mandated in the state last March.
As detailed on the Massachusetts state website, face coverings are still required on public transit and inside facilities that house vulnerable individuals. All industries have been permitted to open back up and 100 percent capacity is now allowed. This means that people can finally get back to doing what they love; attending major league sporting events, going to restaurants, spending time with friends and family, and starting to become a little less worried after over a year of this pandemic.
While the changes outside of school seem to be very significant, life inside school hasn’t changed too much, at least not yet. The main difference with school has been the return to full in-person learning on May 5th. However, while most students returned to school full time, there is still an option in place to be fully remote in Cohort D, though the number of students in this group is continually shrinking. High School Principal Mandy Vasil explained that, “We have students returning to full in person every week”. As of now, being in Cohort D will not be an option next year, and all students enrolled in Nantucket Public Schools will return to full in-person learning in the Fall.
Vasil spoke on mask wearing, explaining that despite many students and staff wishing to stop wearing masks, the school will continue enforcing the mask mandate until the end of the school year. This requirement, issued by the Department of Education, helps protect those who are too young to be vaccinated, or those who have not yet been able to be fully vaccinated. Vasil added that the mask requirement has been “loosened up for outdoor activities,” but events such as the recent Junior Prom will still require them.
As this school year comes to an end, there isn’t much time to make any big changes. Vasil did speak on next year however, stating that “at this time, we believe that we will be full in person without masks when we return to school in the fall. I anticipate that we may continue to ask students to clean their work areas.”
Vasil added that the school will not be considering students’ vaccination status when they return to school next year. She said that this is “not part of the discussion” determining if the high school will return in person full time with masks off, because “students are not required to tell us if they are vaccinated or not.”
A quick look around the island will show how much the world is beginning to change. Normalcy is finally within reach, and next school year will be a very big step in having our lives like they used to be.