Mask Optional Policy
BY SOPHIA SAGHIR '24
On February 25, Superintendent Peter Light notified all members of the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District of the new mask-optional policy that all schools would adopt after returning from winter break. Earlier that week, both the Acton and Boxborough Boards of Health voted to rescind community-wide mask mandates. AB is not alone in their decision; with the Education Commissioner lifting the statewide mask mandate, the decision to go mask-less is left to the school district, and many state public schools have made face coverings optional.
Through a survey shared with ABRHS families it’s found that the new mandate has been met with a mixed reception, and student mask-wearing is subsequently split. Some find mask-wearing situational, opting to wear their masks in busy hallways but then take them off in classrooms.
Although there are a variety of reasons students and staff continue to wear their masks, those with immunocompromised family members are especially careful. They voiced that although they are vaccinated, they are still concerned about the potential permanent ramifications of COVID-19 and are unwilling to risk removing the mask. Others have siblings or children who are not yet eligible for the vaccine, so they are particularly vulnerable.
Several people emphasized that masks were the safer option due to families traveling during February vacation. One student said: “I am more comfortable with giving it some more time, as cases just went down, and it doesn’t hurt to be careful. I feel safer and protected with my mask now, and I would like to at least finish the school year with them on.” A considerate portion of students and faculty will look at removing their masks based on the number of COVID-19 cases within the next couple of weeks.
Alternatively, there are many who are glad at this opportunity to remove their masks. They cite low numbers of COVID-19 cases—currently thirteen in Acton—low hospitalization rates, and high vaccination rates locally. Others argued the negative mental health effects of continued mask-wearing such as anxiety or developing a lower self-esteem outweighed the risk of not wearing a mask. One parent believes that “We need to move past fear as a community and into acceptance. With a vaccination rate as high as ours, we’ve asked enough of our children and we’ve done all we can do. It’s time to give them back their smiles.”
A few supported removing face coverings with the misconception that face coverings block oxygen and concentrate carbon dioxide as well as weaken the immune system.
Many have experienced conflicting emotions. One student remarked, “the pandemic literally made the mask such a normal thing that seeing other people's faces is kind of weird now but it's also refreshing to see someone's face again and makes them seem friendlier.” Another student noted that “it’s so much different seeing people’s entire faces after almost two years. It’s anything but normal.”
No matter the personal choice each student and staff member makes, the school administration has highlighted the importance of accepting all decisions. “Mask shaming, bullying or harassment will not be tolerated in any of our schools,” Peter Light, Superintendent of Schools wrote in his email to staff and families. “This means that no individuals, staff or student, should feel pressured to either wear or remove a mask based on their personal choice.” Much like the rest of the pandemic, only time will tell how the mask-free policy will change schooling.