By Anna Popnikolova, assistant editor-in-chief
The DESE mask mandate for the Nantucket Public School campus and student, staff and educator populations was lifted on March 14th, 2022. This decision followed the statewide removal of the mandate, and a school committee meeting that determined which course of action would be better for students. The decision took learning experiences, quality of education and student mental health into consideration, and the committee ultimately chose to make NPS “mask-optional”. Individuals comfortable taking their masks off are now welcomed to do so, but those students and teachers who are wary or generally more comfortable remaining masked are certainly allowed to continue wearing masks. The majority of students in the halls and in classes are seen without their masks, though a handful of students and teachers can be seen still masked.
“I have continued wearing my mask because N95s and KN95s are effective at preventing Covid-19, and I would like to avoid getting the virus from work, if I can. Wearing a mask doesn’t really bother me; I often forget that I have one on,” explained Ms. Martineau, an English teacher at NHS.
Unfortunately, as the pandemic continues and people continue to be infected with COVID-19 every day, safety comes as a concern. Dr. Eugene Shapiro, a pediatric infectious disease expert, commented in an article by Yale Medicine, “Right now, the incidence of disease is going down, but in a month and half, it might go back up… There could be a new variant. There is just so much uncertainty, and what is right this week might not be right next week.” Worries about another potential wave of infections are not uncommon, and with the student body less protected and less prepared to handle such a wave, many students are concerned about their safety.
As with all controversial issues, the two sides of the mask-wearing argument are ever-present. “It certainly is nice to see kids’ faces, even though I’m keeping my mask on. It doesn’t feel much different to me, but I am happy not to be asking students to put their masks over their noses anymore!” Martineau commented.
Most of class times, while the mandate was still in place, were spent with teachers reminding students to pull their masks up—multiple times every period. An anonymous junior at Nantucket High School expressed how they felt after seeing the majority of their classmates with no masks on: “It’s really refreshing to see everyone’s faces and expressions… I feel like having the mask mandate lifted brought another level of connection to the classroom; I never realized how much seeing the faces of peers and teachers could benefit our learning environment.”
Even though the mandate has been removed, COVID safety remains a concern. “I think that everyone has definitely stopped worrying as much about COVID after the mask mandate dropped. I think being safe is important and masks are still useful in preventing the spread of COVID and other sicknesses, but it is good that we are moving towards being somewhat normal again,” said Ollie Davis, junior.
NHS students feel worry at the removal of masks, which has felt sudden for some, and hopeful to others. Whether one is fearful of the pandemic future and the possible variants and waves, or relieved to breathe without a mask on for the first time since March 2020, the mask mandate removal has affected everyone on campus. Whether a teacher is trying to keep themself safe in a class full of unmasked students, or a teenager is finally learning what all their classmate’s faces look like; whether a kindergartener is seeing their teacher’s face for the first time, everyone is adapting to the weirdness of full faces. Masks have been a big part of student life, personal and at school, and the removal of the mask requirement has been a big adjustment for the student body, whether it was fear or excitement, discomfort or comfort, it has been a change.
Junior Ellie Kinsella, who kept wearing her mask even when it was no longer required, explained that “I was a little wary of it being lifted at first, since I felt it was still a little premature.” Kinsella decided to stop wearing her mask a week after the mandate was lifted. “Now that masks are down and cases are staying down, I feel better about the mandate being lifted. I think it being gone has helped a lot of students and teachers.”
The first unmasked day for students being the 14th felt like a monumental occasion for many — after wearing masks for the past two years, some kids felt as though this was a good sign that they could move forward with their lives. It was a hopeful day, and encouraged the idea that, while the pandemic is most certainly not over, we are adapting, and we will continue to adapt, no matter what the future may hold.