California Schools Become Mask-Optional On March 12

Juliet Becker and Gabi Gruber, Online Feature Editor and Online Shadow Editor

// In the first few weeks of 2022, student and staff absences were off the charts as the Omicron variant ran rampant throughout the Acalanes High School community. Just over a month later, in what seems to be a completely different world, California reels back its COVID-19 guidelines in an attempt to return to normalcy.

   Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a statewide lift of mask mandates in public schools on Feb. 28, leaving the decision of whether to keep masks mandatory or to convert to a mask-optional policy up to individual school districts as of March 12. In a meeting on March 2, the Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD) Governing Board announced their decision to comply with the lifting of the mandate.

   Newsom’s decision to make masks optional follows the state’s lift of the indoor mask mandate on Feb. 16. After this initial statewide lift, the decision to require masks fell to counties across California, and with Contra Costa County moving to no longer require masks, it is now up to businesses to decide whether or not to go mask-optional.

   When California last lifted the statewide mask mandate on June 15, 2021, the number of COVID-19 cases was significantly lower in Contra Costa County than it is now. In June 2021, the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases in the county was 49 per day. In contrast, the seven-day average last week was 456 new cases daily. However, during these two dates, the distribution rates of the COVID-19 vaccine were vastly different. 

   These statistics trouble some students, as they believe it is unwise to lift mask mandates at this time.

   “I think that COVID-19 should be taken more seriously than last time if the numbers are higher. The fact that cases rose again once the mandate was lifted and we had to have a mandate again is evidence enough,” junior Olivia Feldman said. “I think masks should be required still because I do not think anyone wants to relive the student attendance rate of the weeks following winter break. Being in close quarters with people for as much time that everyone is at school puts people at a much higher risk to get sick.”

   Some students also have concerns about bringing home illnesses from school and potentially affecting family members’ health.

   “As someone who has a parent who is at higher risk, it is scary to see all of this happen because there is less protection for [my dad] and less empathy towards people like him. My situation is also a lot more common than people might think, and it’s worrisome for everyone that does share a similar situation. Nobody wants the people they love to get hurt,” Feldman said.

   In contrast, other students support the decision to adopt the mask-optional policy because it allows students to make their own choices regarding masks.

   “I feel like it’s good that people have the option to wear a mask or not. I feel like the pandemic has been going on for so long and it has affected our lives, especially in school. It’s nice to see this change, which is a symbol that the pandemic is ending,” junior Spencer Voogt said.  

   Students are not the only community members who agree, as some teachers also believe that every individual should be able to choose whether to wear a mask or not.

   “I don’t think I’m going to wear a mask for various reasons. I think that everyone’s going to have to make a choice and understand the risk and move forward. I’m looking forward to taking [my mask] off,” art teacher Robert Porter said.

   Although students can choose whether or not to wear a mask, some community members fear that peer pressure will interfere with students’ abilities to make their own decisions. 

   “I would like to encourage kids to wear [masks] still, but I know that most kids [probably] won’t. I think the kids that want to [continue wearing masks] may feel trepidation about keeping it on, they might feel peer pressured a little bit,” Porter said.

   Overall, many students view the lifting of the mask mandate as an important step towards a feeling of normalcy. 

   “I think the lifting of the mask mandate is an optimistic step towards normalcy again… As the pandemic slows down, I think having masks recommended but not required is the right choice for schools in the Bay Area,” frosh Cedric He said.

   As COVID-19 guidelines become more relaxed, the District hopes for a brighter future and for the pandemic to be a less relevant part of the Acalanes community.

   “It is critically important to us to keep our schools safe, and we are hoping that some of the [COVID-19] requirements are drawn back so that we can focus on teaching and learning again,” AUHSD Superintendent John Nickerson said at the meeting.

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