Are you ready for the mask mandate to end?


Derrick Sands

Sophomore Luiz Maximiano shown here, both with and without a mask, thanks to the photoediting skills of Derrick Sands.

As Covid cases continue to decline sharply after the Omicron surge in January, Governor Charlie Baker stated that the mask mandate will be lifted for public schools starting Feb. 28, 2022. This leaves us asking what will happen when we return from vacation.

According to law teacher Carolyn MacWilliam, local cities and towns are allowed to make their own decisions concerning the mask mandates in schools, regardless of whether or not if the governor repealed said mandates statewide. 

“The superintendent can make recommendations and the School Committee has to approve it. It will be on the agenda on Feb. 28, so we have to wear a mask on the 28th,” health coordinator Julie Ann Whitson told us on Friday, Feb 11.  “If the School Committee were to vote to get rid of masks, on March 1 we might not have to wear masks. I’m not 100 percent sure of the superintendent’s recommendations to the School Committee, but I know the City Board of Health has been in line with the recommendations of the governor. So we’re likely going in that direction.”

Shortly before we left for vacation, Superintendent Priya Tahiliani said this in an email to the EPS community: 

“The Everett School Committee will hold its next meeting on Monday, February 28th, at which time they will deliberate on whether or not to lift the indoor mask mandate in our schools.  Last week, Governor Charlie Baker and DESE announced that it is ending its indoor mask mandate for K-12 schools, effective February 28th. But the final decisions rest with local health departments and school committees. We are asking for your patience and to please wear face coverings when we return from February break so the School Committee has the chance to discuss this important matter. Regardless of the School Committee’s determination, students and staff are encouraged to wear masks if they so choose. The district will continue to make masks available in all of our buildings. And no one should feel that the lifting of the mandate is in any way akin to a directive not to wear face coverings. The choice is yours.”

As we await a decision from the school committee following the meeting on Feb. 28, opinions from staff and students about whether they were ready for the mask mandate to end were mixed. 

Many were hesitant about the timing of the governor’s decision, given the recent spike in December and January.

“I understand that some people are uncomfortable with it, so people will absolutely have an option to wear a mask,” Whitson said. “It wouldn’t be a mandate. It’s just giving people the freedom to decide, but as the health coordinator of the district, I would say, especially if we are not wearing masks, that people who are sick with a runny nose, a cough or tested negative for Covid should wear a mask. That way, you will protect yourself, your classmates and everyone else. Personally, I will continue to wear my mask to protect myself and everyone in this school.”

“I think it’s dumb,” freshman Erick Moncada said.  “Covid is still out there and I don’t even know if my mom is going to send me to school after she finds out. I think it’s very dangerous.” 

MacWilliam was surprised about the governor’s decision to repeal the mask mandates, especially due to the rise in Covid cases after Christmas break, and she suspects the majority of students in her classes would continue to wear masks.

 “They’re lifting the mandate a little too early,” said sophomore Tyana Williams. “They should at least wait maybe another month or so because of everything happening with New Years. The new Omicron variant that came and went, and how cases in general just went up a lot. I have a feeling they should still wait it out even though there haven’t been any new Covid cases inside the school for some time, to make sure everyone’s prepared for that.” 

“All the teachers and students have to be prepared to do what they have to do when the mandate is lifted,” Williams said. “Because I feel like a lot of students probably will not be wearing their masks and not a lot of people are vaccinated so the Covid cases will probably go up again if they’re not vaccinated. Personally, I will wear my mask. I think there’s probably going to be a lot of teachers and students who won’t wear their masks when that is an option. But I do still think that will cause the Covid cases to go up just for like a week or two with all the people who are not vaccinated without having their mask on.”

“My opinion is that for the well being of the school I am going to keep my mask on,” said senior Alyssa Hurley. “But what other people choose to do is entirely their choice. They just need to understand that there may or may not be consequences for removing their mask. What they do might reflect on our schools  and our education, especially if the Covid situation gets out of hand again. People need to make safe and smart choices. I would probably feel more nervous about it, maybe because I don’t want to bring Covid to my family. But ultimately, whether or not I choose to keep my mask on, everyone who chooses to take it off, it will be their choice.” 

“I’m still going to keep my mask on,” said junior Isabel Amparo. “I don’t feel comfortable with this idea given the fact the second string of Covid-19 is right there and not everyone is vaccinated or got their booster shot as well. I hope the school thinks about the student’s opinion. Not everyone is okay with this. It’s unfair to people who have asthma. Just one person can actually affect the rest of us. I think this idea won’t last long and we will properly go back to wearing a mask again.”

Other students and teachers, of course, are ready for the mandate to end.

Law teacher Robert LeGrow thinks the time has come to end the mask mandate, partly because the success of vaccines and masking has brought us to this point, and that masking will continue to remain an option for those who want to.  

“I feel like the governor’s decision was a good decision to remove the mask at this point,” LeGrow said. “We’ve been wearing masks for a long time and I think the vaccine percentages are high enough to safely  transition to not having to wear a mask. 

“Masking has also been proven to be very effective,” LeGrow said.  “Wearing a N95 mask greatly reduces your chance of getting Covid. If you are frightened of Covid at this point, there are plenty of things available to prevent contracting it. If you want to wear a mask, by all means wear a mask, but leave the rest of us alone to live our lives.”

“I hope that the school decides to remove the mask mandate. I wouldn’t have worn a mask since March 2020 if I didn’t absolutely have to,” LeGrow said.

“Personally I am ready to take my mask off, but for others they might just want to keep it under their chin and below their nose,” said freshman Kevi Posadas. “I think the mask mandate being taken down is a good idea for everyone.” 

“I think the mask mandate being taken down is a good idea,” said freshman Jason Ramirez. “It gives everyone a new beginning and a normal school kind of look.”

Dean of students Leslie LeBlanc believes that there will be a mixed number of students who wear masks and those who don’t.

“I know that many people will continue to wear their masks in protection of themselves and their loved ones, and I hope we are all able to respect each other’s decision. But I hope that this is a sign that things are getting better and that the number of Covid cases keep going down,” LeBlanc said.

”I feel like we should give it a chance, and try it, and see,” medical assisting teacher Lisa Passanisi said. “And then if the numbers continue to rise then maybe go back to it. Just because kids have had their masks on for a long time, it’s probably time to get back to some normalcy.”

On Friday, Feb. 18, all students and staff were also issued a Covid test kit.  In the superintendent’s message, she encouraged everyone to take one test on Sunday, Feb. 27 and the other one on Sunday, March 6. “Past experience tells us that case counts can spike shortly after holidays and vacations, and we hope that access to these tests will help us to prepare for or even mitigate that possibility,” Tahiliani said.