Opinion: Should Masks Remain Required in NYC Schools?
by Sasha Rabinowitz and Briana Almonte
On February 10th, New York joined New Jersey in repealing a COVID-19 requirement that required face coverings in most indoor public places — but will keep masking laws in place in schools for the time being.
Even though the mask order was set to expire last week, according to Governor Kathy Hochul, masks will still be necessary in specific places, such as health care facilities, certain types of shelters and public transportation.
Private companies will be able to create their own masking policies for employees and customers. New Jersey Governor Philip D. Murphy, a Democrat who has enacted some of the nation’s strictest pandemic-related regulations, will no longer force kids and school personnel to wear masks, suggesting a deliberate shift toward treating the Coronavirus as a part of everyday life.
Although many students, parents, and faculty see this as a victory, some states feel like it could bring back some normalcy in students lives. Some students at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA) had mixed feelings about what this might mean for the safety of students, stand, and families if this were to take place in New York City.
Olivia Summer, a junior drama major who is tripled vaccinated against Covid-19, spoke on how she would feel if masks were no longer mandated.
“Personally I would feel relieved about it because I understand that it keeps people safe and I understand that if we lift the mask mandate it doesn’t mean you have to take off your mask,” Olivia said. “I’m probably going to keep mine on in crowded areas, but ultimately I really want the choice because I hate the masks and I want to talk to my friends and have as close to a normal life as possible in high school because I haven’t even had a normal year in high school yet.”
She adds that she understands why people might feel uneasy or unsafe, but the numbers have significantly gone down and have stayed down for now.
“If the numbers go back up then yes, put the mandate back on but it should now be a choice” she said.
She knows the faculty has tried to put rules in place to keep students safe (with masks) and she says that almost no one follows them when it comes to social distancing in the restrooms and lunchrooms. She thinks the staff should try to enhance these rules, but is unsure as to how much they can actually enforce as many students aren’t careful enough to make sure they are socially distanced themselves in certain spaces.
Senior student Andrew Knierim expressed great concern regarding the issue. Coming from a household with an immunocompromised parent, he feels that mask mandates are still necessary to ensure the safety of students and their families.
“I feel like kids our age can be really irresponsible and people would not be as worried about Covid spreading as I would be. I don’t really trust other students to take the virus as seriously so if masks were made optional I would not feel comfortable going to school,” Andrew commented.
There is also the issue of distrust in other students. Some students may continue to wear masks even if they are not required while others will not. Andrew feels that choosing to come to school maskless says something negative about the person and may result in increased polarization among the student body.
If mask mandates were lifted in school, Andrew hopes that other safety measures will be put in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19 such as a vaccine mandate. He also proposed required Covid testing for students and teachers returning from school breaks.
Bettirose Epstein, a senior vocal major agreed that mask mandates should remain in place for the rest of the foreseeable future. She, like many others, views the decisions of Connecticut and New Jersey to lift mask requirements as irresponsible and worries about her safety if New York City schools were to follow.
“There’s hundreds of kids in this school, in others there are thousands. They are all coming from different places and we already come into close contact with each other everyday. It would not be smart to do that without masks,” Bettirose added. Disposing of Covid safety measures like mask mandates would make students feel uncomfortable coming to school and should be a decision government officials consider carefully and thoughtfully.
Another student, Maeve Gopeesingh (a senior art major) understands why lifting the mandate could be a relief as Olivia stated, but thinks it’s still too soon to determine if it is safe enough to fully take off masks and sides more with Bettirose and Andrew.
“I would feel more unsafe in school if it was lifted right now because I just think it’s too early because the past two winters have shown us that Covid is still prevalent. I think late march or April would be a safer time because of the spike we just had with the Omicron variant,” Maeve states.
All four students also believe that if lifting the mask mandate was put into place, the cases will go up again or another variant can occur. They are nervous people are going to be uncomfortable creating animosity within the community.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those solely of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Bennett as a whole.