Does lifting the mask mandate reveal racial divides at Payton?

By Anna Yang, Staff Writer 

Please keep in mind that the above pie chart does not take into account the racial makeup of the school and is solely based on our survey taken of randomly-chosen students during enrichment.

On the Monday of March 14, 2022, CPS lifted the mask mandate on Chicago schools. In the same week, more than 40% of Payton students chose to stop wearing masks for the entirety of the school day. 

Out of 215 Payton students surveyed that first week, non-white students made up almost 60% of students that chose to keep their masks on. In contrast, nearly 80% of students who were not wearing masks were white. 

Some teachers sent out a form before the mask mandate was lifted asking if students would be wearing masks or not when the mandate was lifted. It also asked if they would prefer to sit next to someone wearing a mask or not, in case students were in high risk environments with young children, elderly family members, or immunocompromised people at home. With such clear connections between race and mask wearing, concerns arise over whether learning disparities will increase. Non-masked students will be put next to non-masked students or students who are comfortable with no masks. These students tend to be white, which leads to dividing the classroom by race.

Choosing to wear a mask can also be seen as a point of privilege. COVID-19 has hit non-white communities the hardest. Many non-white families are intergenerational households holding potentially immunocompromised people, specifically elderly members. For those who don’t have the responsibility of someone more vulnerable in their family, it may be difficult to see why wearing a mask is necessary. “If you don’t see the impact of something right in front of you, it’s hard to see why an action should be taken,” junior Damianos Koliarakis-Bridges explains. He continues, saying that mask wearing is a sign of empathy, to protect other students who may be more vulnerable to the virus, or have family members who are. 

The Payton administration “strongly recommends” wearing masks, but doesn’t enforce it as a policy anymore, following district and nationwide mask recommendations. Many students appreciate the flexibility, especially for situations like sports practice. Students also trust one another to prioritize others’ health concerns. Miles Reeves 23′ said he trusted Payton’s student population to be smart and responsible in having the choice to wear a mask or not and that at the end of the day, it’s just following CDC guidelines.

With more and more students taking masks off during the month of April, the racial statistics may be something to keep in mind when deciding whether to wear a mask or not. 

Please see the following article for more information on the divide:

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