By Bridget Galibois, Copy Editor
Signs have been displayed around the school for the past year to remind students to wear their masks to prevent spreading COVID-19.
For the first time since the reopening of hybrid learning for CPS students in the spring of 2021, students will be able to choose to wear a mask on Monday. During the hybrid weeks of the 2020-2021 school year, six-foot social distancing, cleaning surfaces often, and mandatory mask wearing were strictly enforced. These restrictions were weakened for the 2021-2022 school year, as six-foot social distancing is no longer imposed and students must attend school in person with no remote option unless quarantined due to a positive COVID test. The lifting of the mask mandate is the newest loosening of COVID restrictions.
The CPS decision to go mask-optional is in accordance with Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s lifting of the statewide mask mandate on February 28. CPS officials are citing low risk of infectious spread as shown in CDC data and high vaccination rates throughout the city. Payton’s latest vaccination rates, some of the highest in the district, are roughly at 80%. Over 95% of staff is fully vaccinated.
Some students, such as Akosua Haynes ‘25, agree with the decision to go mask-optional in CPS schools. “Since we’ve had masks on for three years now, I think it’s time for it to end… there’s not a big new variant coming out so far from what I know, so I’m perfectly fine with it.” Come Monday, Haynes hadn’t decided yet if she would wear a mask or not.
However, Anoushka Lal ‘24 expressed some concern that lifting the mask mandate might come too soon. “Looking at other cases around the nation where people remove mask mandates and cases [rose]… I’m just a little concerned that that might happen at Payton, that there might be another spike at school.”
Lal said that she will be wearing a mask on Monday, and reiterated that if “everyone [is] not wearing masks [there] might [be] some consequences.”
Wearing masks has become the norm for students in the classroom.
Teachers are split on wearing masks or taking them off. “I’m actually pretty excited that masks are going to be optional because my job as a band director is incredibly difficult when people can’t see my face,” said Band Director Mr. Ashworth. “For me to be able to work with students and potentially be able to see their [faces] is exciting because I haven’t been able to see that in two years. I’m just excited for the possibility of masks start to slowly go to the wayside.”
Throughout the pandemic, band students have been using special masks with an opening to allow them to play their instruments without a mask interfering, along with covers for the ends of their instruments to prevent the spread of germs throughout the air. “There’s a chance that I might wear a mask for a few extra days, but once my beard fills back in, my mask is going away,” Ashworth said.
PE teacher and department chair Ms. Bertoni-Mancine agreed. “I think if the numbers are low in our school and we have a high vaccination rate, this may be an opportunity for us to not have to wear masks. Obviously if the numbers change and if they go up, or [if] there are infections, I will wear a mask.”
“If I’m not in close contact, if I’m in a wide open space like the gym, I may not be wearing a mask. If students are in a wide open space in the gym, I’m all for students not having to wear a mask while they’re not in close contact,” Bertoni-Mancine added.
Signs encouraging students to clean their spaces and wear masks are displayed throughout the school, such as this one in an art room.
Sophia Zhang ‘23, stated that she will be wearing a mask on Monday. She was also “surprised that [CPS] actually went through with [lifting the mandate], especially since [Chicago is] a big city.”
“I personally don’t have an issue with wearing my mask, but I think it’s also important to follow what the CDC says and what health officials say. I’d say that I’m still a little reticent [to take my mask off] because I think COVID is spreading,” said Julia Gershberg ‘22. Gershberg also acknowledged that “as the weather gets warmer, I don’t see that much of an issue with [unmasking], but I don’t think I’ll be taking it off fully next week.”
Recognizing that whether or not to wear a mask in school could become a divisive issue for students, Louise Goldman ‘24 said she would be wearing a mask next week. “I think it’s going to be really interesting to see how strong people’s morals are, [and] what people are going to decide to do because I think that it’s something that honestly a lot of people weren’t expecting, especially this soon. So it’s going to be interesting to see who shows up to school without a mask or shows up to school with one, and how it changes throughout the day,” Goldman added.
Masks will no longer be required to be worn at CPS facilities.
As of now, children under 5 are unable to be vaccinated. This means that for teachers with young children, lifting the mask mandate means risking that their children may become exposed to COVID-19 or other diseases.
“I have a son who’s going to be four on March 30. So because he’s not vaccinated, it’s difficult for me,” said Ms. Bonnan, a French and Spanish teacher at Payton. “I feel anxiety because I feel safer being in school when everyone is masked, knowing that I won’t bring anything home to him. My parents take care of him when I’m at school and they’re older so even though they’re vaccinated, it also worries me that I could bring something home to them as well.”
Ms. Childress-Price, a science teacher, also felt uneasy about lifting the mask mandate. “I feel nervous because I think it’s a little premature. Just yesterday, I received an email from CPS saying that my son is a close contact of someone who just tested positive in his elementary school, so people are still getting infected.”
Childress-Price also addressed how people interact with or without masks. “I think it’s really important as a teacher and [as] a parent that people don’t feel shamed if somebody chooses to take down their mask.”
Athletic Director Mr. Nunnery, however, was indifferent about masking in schools. “I would understand if it stayed in effect how some people would think that it could decrease the chances of COVID being spread rapidly at school. To my knowledge and my experience at Payton it hasn’t been rapidly spread about with the current constraints, so I don’t have a strong opinion either way,” he responded.
When asked if he knew whether he would be wearing a mask on Monday, Nunnery said “I do not. I take it one day at a time, one week at a time.”