Slice of Life: To Mask Or Not

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective and then all through March — every single day  …  You write, too.)

Our School Committee members voted the other night to lift our mask mandate at our school when we return from February break next week. They had sent out surveys to teachers and parents, but not students. That got me irritated, as they seem to consistently avoid asking students what they think, so I revamped their parent survey and had my sixth graders voice their opinions. I sent it off to the School Committee before their meeting, and to its credit, the chairman shared the students survey in the meeting before any other results.

Mask Mandate Zooming
The School Committee ignored advice from the health officials on the timing of lifting the mask mandate, but the discussions – even in the public hearing section – were civil and thoughtful, a rarity in today’s meetings (even in our town).

I wasn’t surprised to see my students voting in the majority to lift the mask mandate, as this is a fairly conservative community and students are generally just tired of wearing masks, but I was curious and a little concerned about the second question, asking them whether they will still wear masks even if the mandate was dropped.

MaskPolicySurvey (student response)

A full third of the students who took the survey indicated they weren’t sure, although I know many have thought about it and talked about it, and as we approach this moment of shift in masking, I know there are going to be some students who want to wear a mask for protection, and are allowed to, but may not, due to pressure from friends, either overt or not.

I don’t know how family decisions will play into all of this either, since we are not going to be policing which students have been given permission to wear masks and which have not.

As a teaching team, we’re already mulling on ways to make all students comfortable in whatever decision they make, and to accept and support any decision anyone else makes, as well. We’ve had discussions about Morning Meeting as a time to reinforce talk of respecting opinions in a larger community and we’ve talked about us, teachers, wearing masks, even if we wouldn’t otherwise, as an act of solidarity to any students feeling on the edge or uncertain. I am sure the administration has information going home, as well.

It seems as if every step of the way in this Pandemic, we keep having to learn new ways to navigate forward, and strategies to help our students do the same.

Peace (in choice),

  1. This pandemic — really has us making a lot of decisions. 🙁 I am glad you asked your students -maybe that will remind others to do the same next time!

  2. Thanks for this. Our district made the same “choice,” though there was no survey of teachers or kids to my knowledge. I’m glad you asked them both of those questions. I agree that the unsure group is a concern. I think the peer pressure will lead many toward the no mask side. I’m still going to wear a mask. Your mention of solidarity or support for those kids who opt to wear their mask gives me another reason to keep mine on. I think there will be quite a few who have instructions from home to continue wearing the mask. They will be conflicted. There will also be parents who are afraid to ask their kids to continue masking for fear of them being singled out or teased. Talk will be important…lots of it.

  3. In this new, ever-changing time, I always feel it is better to stand on the side of caution, but everyone’s idea of caution is different too. There is no normal, just new normal. Best of luck at school with this masking issue – hopefully we are helping students realize their own opinions.

  4. This is a discussion we seem to all be having these days. On the one hand, many are unmasking in schools and stores in these parts. Clearly, this last round of Covid has been easier for most people. Yet, the University where I teach still requires masks, dividers, fully vaccinated, boosted and weekly testing of students and staff! I’m told they plan to maintain the policy for a while because it seems to be working
    I’m on a first name basis with my local drive through test site and when then informed me they were closing at the end of the month, I got a bit teary eyed – but mostly because it means I will need to get to school earlier in order to get a test there each week until they too change the rules.
    As for my graduate students, they would wear the mask if they could give up testing!

  5. Kevin, thanks for updating your readership on the happenings in your district regarding masks. It seems to be a hot topic these days. I think it was a good plan of yours to poll your students for their thoughts on the matter and send the results to the school board. I know that one of the reading councils on Long Island is having virtual PD four times in the year. I am presenting next week. I am one of the breakout presentations. We want everyone to remain safe in the educational world.

  6. As others have said, this was a difficult decision to make, but I’m glad they made an apparent effort to involve most of the stakeholders. I’m even more glad you involved your students. I wonder, sometimes, how this will all go down in history.

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