To mask or not: Staff, students discuss optional mask rule

Abyssinia Haile


Mary Woytowicz and Sawyer Lisowski, both sophomores, are among the students choosing to wear or not wear masks as the rule becomes optional.

Lilli DiGrande, Editor

On March 13th, 2020, Minnechaug closed its doors to students and teachers following the end of the school day for the remaining three months of the school year. On March 7th, 2022, students had the option to unmask in the school building for the first time in almost two years. Both students and teachers have mixed feelings about the mask mandate lift and what it means for our school community.

Señora Lewis, a Spanish teacher at Chaug, has mixed feelings about the mask mandate, but she thinks that it’s a sign of progress that we’re moving through the pandemic. “It’s a nice, healthy, exciting type of change that we can now have a choice if we want to wear a mask or not,” she said.

However, Lewis worries about the student side of things. “For me as a teacher, the thing that makes me the most nervous is I never know what my students are feeling or thinking,” she said. “I’ve talked to a lot of students about how they feel about the masks coming off and some are really excited and feel safe and other people are uncomfortable.”

With mandates and COVID regulations changing and evolving throughout the past two years, some teachers at Chaug understand the need to accommodate and adapt so that everyone feels comfortable with this new change.

Lewis and some other teachers that she’s talked with came up with a solution to make sure their students feel comfortable and safe if they don’t feel ready to take off their masks yet. “We’ll wear our masks around our necks and if we approach a student with a mask on, we can put our masks on our face and when lecturing or at a distance, we can wear it on our chin or as a ‘necklace,”’ she explained. “It’s another one of those things we have to adapt to but I’m excited that people have a choice.”

Mrs. DeMico, a gym teacher at Chaug, is excited for the mask mandate lift so her students can see her smile everyday, and so she can see theirs. She feels comfortable not wearing a mask to school because of the advances in medicine, and she is vaccinated and boosted as well.

With the mask mandate, not being able to see students’ faces affected DeMico, especially in the beginning. “I couldn’t tell right off the bat if my kids came in sad, if they came in happy, or if they were tired. It was hard for me to make those interpersonal connections that in my discipline, have always made within the first couple weeks.”

Now with the option of wearing a mask or not, students will be able to show their full faces to peers and teachers, and possibly be able to make those face-to-face connections again if they feel comfortable to do so.

DeMico also wants students to feel comfortable no matter what their decision regarding the mandate lift may be. “For the people who are going to continue to wear masks, I fully support you and I respect your personal choice, so do not think because I’m excited to show my smile and see your smile is any pressure for you to take off the mask before you feel comfortable and totally safe to.”

Mr. Konkoly, an English teacher and the president of the Hampden Wilbraham Education Association, decided that he will initially continue to wear a mask in solidarity with students and colleagues who may be in situations where they feel that for health reasons they need to continue to wear one.

On the other hand, Konkoly thinks that it will be nice to see former students’ faces again, and be able to see new faces for the first time as well.

“Not too long ago a student was talking about coming in late to school because she had an orthodontist appointment, and I thought to myself ‘oh I didn’t even know that she had braces.’ Realizing things like that will be kind of interesting,” Konkoly said.

Students haven’t shown their full faces in school for almost two years, and as mandates and COVID regulations have changed, teachers aren’t the only ones who worry about other students feeling uncomfortable with the mandate lift.

Quinn Suomala, a senior and the Editor in Chief for the Smoke Signal, feels a little nervous about the mask mandate lift, partly because of the low vaccination rate of about 67% at Minnechaug. Another factor in Quinn’s decision to continue to wear a mask includes her obligations she has to continue, and concern for elder family members.

“I really don’t have time to get sick right now. I have performances, dance and I don’t want to give it to any of my relatives since I see my grandparents fairly often so I’ll probably do that to keep people I know safe,” Suomala explained.

Although she will choose to wear a mask due to health concerns, Suomala isn’t worried about others seeing her full face, but she understands the benefit of having the privacy provided from masks.

“I talked to some friends and they said that it was nice for them to be able to just sit there and not have to worry about how their expressions looked,” she said. “I think that some people are going to be anxious about that, like maybe they have acne that they’re self conscious about too, so there’s a couple different layers to it.”

Audrey Izzo, a freshman at Chaug, also thought about the issue of acne and how some students might have liked the masks to conceal it. “I know a lot of people who do have skin problems which are covered by the mask in that area, but it won’t go away immediately,” she said.

In regards to the privacy that the masks provided, whether that be for covering acne or hiding facial expressions, Izzo felt that removing the masks might feel a little nerve racking at first. “I think the majority of people will want to take their masks off so it will be a universal experience to have everyone doing that stuff at the same time,” she said.

“I feel like the masks were definitely a comfort for most people when coming back to in-person school, people will probably be nervous to take them off because of the privacy they were able to have with them,” Izzo said. “In a working environment having everyone masks off will form connections between people, especially with teachers, it will feel more personal and I think that will help better with learning.”

Alivia Grono, another freshman, agrees that there will be interaction benefits provided with the option to remove masks. “I feel like it will be so much better taking them off and being able to sit closer to your friends at lunch now too,” she said.

After having the mask mandate for over a year, many students and teachers have gotten used to wearing the masks in the school building, making the transition significant for a lot of people. Although most people feel that there will be a socialization and learning benefit from not wearing the masks, students have also been thinking about the transition back towards normality.

“I don’t really mind people seeing my face, it’ll be new and it’s almost going to be like coming to school for the first time again where more than half of the people in the school haven’t seen my face yet, especially my teachers.” Sawyer Lisowski, a sophomore, said. “I’m kind of excited for it because it’s a whole new reality where the old one is now coming back. It’ll be cool to see people’s faces again.”

Jada Rosario, a junior, is excited for the mask mandate lift but thinks it might be a weird adjustment at first. “I haven’t shown everyone what my face looks like in a year and a half, but I haven’t seen my peers since freshman year which is weird because we are two years older,” she said.

Matt O’Keefe, a sophomore, thinks that without the masks it will be a lot easier to learn in general. “I think that teachers interact based on facial expressions and can address their class based on that so I feel like if we’re behind a mask they can’t see how we’re reacting to something they’re saying and if we’re understanding it or not,” he said.

Most students and teachers feel like there will be an additional social interaction benefit from not having the mask mandate anymore, some even even feeling to an extent that it will improve learning conditions.

With this new step back towards normality, it’s important that everyone feels safe and comfortable, and students and teachers can start to have a normal high school experience again.