By Isabelle Ravanas, Editor-In-Chief
On Monday, Mar. 7, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) released a statement stating that the district will go mask-optional by Mar. 14, signaling a shift from its previous attitude around masking in schools.
Around the country, mask mandates vary vastly by state with some states having done away with their mandates as early as Spring 2021 (such as Arkansas), and yet others (such as Florida) having banned mask mandates in schools. Because of this, certain districts in states such as Alabama started the 2021-22 school year without masks at school.
Following the sharp decrease in cases after the Omicron variant wave, the United States has slowly started to revert back to a pre-COVID world: the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated last Thursday that more than 90% of Americans are safe to remove their masks indoors. This occurred around the same time that more cautious states such as New York and Massachusetts ease their mask mandates.
Governor J.B. Pritzker lifted mask mandates throughout Illinois on Feb.28, however left the question of masks in school up to individual school districts. Because of this, some Chicago-area schools such as Loyola Academy were mask-optional, while CPS decided to stay with mandatory masks.
CPS made national news this past January for its standoff with the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) regarding COVID safety at school. However, thanks to its Jan.12 agreement with the Union, students were allowed to return after a few days. This agreement includes a section regarding mandated masks throughout CPS. In response to the district’s announcement today to go mask-optional, a breach of the agreement, the Union came out with a statement saying “[CTU] will immediately be filing an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge against the district in response, and requesting that CPS bargain over this decision”. CPS CEO Pedro Martinez backed up the announcement by stating that “CPS was one of the first to require universal masking in schools” and that the district would not have announced this change if there was not sufficient evidence that this would be a safe transition.
At Payton, a school where vaccination rates for students are above 80%, feelings about the change are mixed. Payton senior Eva Murillo’s main worry is that people who weren’t as cautious previously are the people who will not wear masks and that “people are still vulnerable”. Murillo also believes that the transition is too fast; as she states, “numbers are down now, but viruses mutate! […] day-to-day efforts are […] necessary”. On the flip side, Fiona O’Toole ‘24 pointed out that “mask wearing is definitely annoying and the goal is to return to normal”. O’Toole stated that she probably won’t be wearing a mask next week as she is triple vaccinated and doesn’t live with anyone that is high-risk. However, she finished by saying that she respects everyone’s decision. Junior Fevzy Ghiuve-Osman agrees: “It would definitely be safer to continue wearing masks”, he stated, “[but] I think it’s good that everyone is given the ability to decide for themselves”.