Mask Mandate Lifted in All Public Schools

Stuyvesant High School and its community now have the option to not wear masks after the mask mandate lift announced by Mayor Eric Adams.

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With the COVID-19 pandemic persisting, many public spaces, including restaurants and schools, made masks a requirement to enter their premises. Following the general decline in cases, with averages showing less than 1000 cases per day, Mayor Eric Adams made an announcement to lift the mask mandate, which had been in effect since blended-learning last year, for all students in NYC public schools starting March 7. Despite this marking a shift in the return to normalcy, the majority of Stuyvesant students still wear masks.

This announcement caused mixed reactions from the Stuyvesant community. Some people, such as Principal Seung Yu, felt both relief and anxiety about the mask mandate being lifted. “In one way, I’m relieved as I believe many of us, including myself, are exhausted from the pandemic. I’m ready to go back to some semblance of being around others where we can see [each other's] faces and feel more comfortable,” he said in an e-mail interview. “Simultaneously, we’re still in the pandemic and there is continued anxiety about our health and well-being. It will still take time for all of us to gain some level of comfort.”

Some students, like sophomore Julia Chernobelsky, felt relief about the lift of the mandate but were also concerned about the risks the new developments would bring. “When the mandate was lifted, I felt relieved. I thought that finally life was going back to normal and COVID-19 rates were declining,” Chernobeselsky said. “Then I was a bit conflicted about whether or not I wanted to stop wearing it because I wanted to be cautious.”

Additionally, Principal Yu and Director of Family Engagement Dina Ingram have made e-mail announcements to the student body establishing their commitment to safety. The school will still be providing masks for those who need them and will continue encouraging students who don’t feel well to stay home. Students who experience a five-day isolation period after receiving a positive COVID-19 diagnosis or having COVID-19 symptoms without testing will be required to wear masks for five days upon returning to school. These announcements also acknowledge how the updated mask guidance will be a slow transition depending on the comfort of students, with an emphasis on the importance of respecting everyone’s decisions.

For many students, the factor of peer pressure was a large concern affecting the decision of whether to wear a mask. Therefore, some students took the initiative of creating Instagram polls to aid them with the decision-making process. “I was just going to side with the majority on this one,” sophomore Dinah-Luba Beylison said. “If most people were wearing masks, so would I, if most people weren’t, so would I.” Beylison’s poll showed a result of 90% of students choosing to wear masks.

In a survey conducted by The Spectator, it was found that out of 417 responses, the main reasons for students to continue masking despite not having to are health reasons and self-consciousness. Students were permitted to select as many reasons not to wear a mask as applicable to them, with the statistics showing that health reasons was selected 239 times, self-consciousness was selected 217 times, social reasons (detailed as not wanting to be the only student in a classroom unmasked) was selected 179 times, and parent pressure was selected 69 times. 59 students said that they were choosing to no longer wear a mask. Additionally, there were 50 written responses excluded from the graph shown, with responses such as “I wear it for brief periods,” “I live with my grandparents,” and “It’s exhausting to smile.”

Freshman Brandon Waworontu was influenced by others’ decisions in his choice to wear a mask, but also made his decisions based on safety concerns. “I saw a lot of people at Stuy still wearing their masks, so I thought that was like the norm. I think I may have been judged a little [if I didn’t wear a mask],” Waworontu said. “I [also] just felt more comfortable with the mask on. [...] I thought I would have a smaller chance of getting COVID-19.”

Unlike Waworuntu, Chernobelsky ultimately decided to remove her mask because she decided the cases were low enough for her to feel comfortable without her mask. “In our school specifically, the rates are basically zero and where I live, it’s the same thing. I kind of trust the fact that COVID-19 is not dying out, but [appearing] a lot less,” she said.

Chernobelsky also mentioned that people’s decisions had a lot to do with the community they were a part of. “It’s a lot about what your communities are and how you’re raised because [...] most of the people who live in my community [...] haven’t been wearing [a mask] at school, and it’s because our parents and the community we’re in couldn't care less,” Chernobelsky said. “The people whose parents were always on top of [...] might be a little more conscious.”

In contrast to the majority of students who chose to keep their masks, many faculty members have decided not to wear them, including English teacher Katherine Fletcher. Fletcher feels comfortable taking off her mask after the mask mandate has been lifted. “When the mask mandate was lifted, I decided that now was as good a time as any to take off a mask and try to resume some sort of normalcy,” she said.

Fletcher also notes that her teaching style has changed with the lifting of the mask mandate. “I got used to teaching in a mask. It took me a little longer to learn my students’ names, but now I can’t imagine having difficulty with that,” she said. “One thing that I enjoy about teaching without a mask is that I like being able to smile at my students and have them know that I am smiling.”

In Fletcher’s classes in particular, she notes that most students still have their masks on and emphasizes the importance of respecting everyone’s decisions. “In each of my classes, there have been very few students who are unmasked at this point. [...] I don’t discuss with them their personal reasoning behind their decisions because it is not my business and I think a good rule of thumb is not to say anything about anyone’s individual decision to wear a mask or not wear a mask,” she said.

But while some faculty members are taking their masks off, some are choosing to keep their masks on. In the case of Dr. Maria Nedwick-Moore, she values the safety and protection of the people around her, especially her family. “I am 29 weeks pregnant, and despite having received all three vaccinations for COVID, the risk to me and my future daughter if I get sick with COVID could be catastrophic,” Dr. Nedwick-Moore said. “I don’t want to bring an illness home to [my husband] from work or from my travels. And finally, my mother is at high risk. I do not want to jeopardize her health or limit my ability to see her by engaging in high risk exposures at work or in general.”

Despite the sudden change, Principal Yu believes that the Stuyvesant community will be able to adjust accordingly to meet their comfort levels and safety needs. “We will need to take it on a day-by-day basis as we individually and collectively learn how to adjust to the guidance in allowing for masks to be optional,” Principal Yu said. “I believe as a community, we will handle it with grace, but there will inevitably be some bumps along the way as we traverse this transition together.”