Seniors Max Wu and Elliot Crowder exit the Matthews Library where masks are no longer required. (Photo by Arijit Trivedi)

Student body divided on optional masking

Students, teachers and staff at Country Day are no longer required to wear mask indoors, but the school strongly encourages them to stay masked following the March 12 change. This unmasking adheres to the California Department of Public Health’s new policy, which is based on the decrease in COVID-19 cases in the state.

Those who are taking advantage of the updated rule are in the minority.

So far, the trend on campus appears to be people continuing to wear masks indoors. However, the decision to mask outdoors is about half-and-half. In a March 15 Octagon poll sent to the high school students, 24 of 32 respondents answered that they would continue to wear their mask indoors, while 15 of 32 said they would wear their masks outdoors.

Students continue to wear their masks for two main reasons: social discomfort and safety.

Sophomore Juliette Zuñíga plans to continue wearing her mask at school, at least indoors. However, she will occasionally remove it when she deems it appropriate.

For example, if she is outside during morning break or lunch, or if many people are unmasking around her in a well-ventilated location, Zuñíga will carefully take off her mask.

“I don’t really care what other people decide to do, but people still need to stay safe — just because we’re unmasking doesn’t mean you can, you know, spit on people. There are still people at risk and COVID-19 is still around,” Zuñíga said.

In combination with her concern for staying protected, Zuñíga is choosing to keep on her mask for social reasons.

“I know some people still aren’t fully comfortable with the change. I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable,” Zuñíga said.

For many students, it’s taking a lot to get used to seeing the other half of their peers’ and teachers’ faces.

“I feel like socially, I’m not ready to have it off,” said freshman Anniston Miller, who continues to wear her mask both indoors and outdoors.

Sophomore Rachel Pirie expressed concerns about safety and adaptation to the new protocols.

She currently wears her mask both inside and outside.

“I understand people not wanting to wear a mask outdoors, but inside, things are moving a little bit too fast,” Pirie said.

Freshman Cara Shin, who also wears her mask both in and out of the classroom, explained that she won’t unmask for now due to safety reasons.

“I think it’s just safety protocol, and it’s not bad to be too safe,” Shin said.

However, numerous students who have decided to stay masked are comfortable being around those who have chosen to leave their mask off.

“I think it’s their choice and I don’t distance myself from them.

It’s their opinion, and it doesn’t bother me too much,” Shin said.

Some students who have chosen to unmask say they don’t mind if people choose to keep their masks on.

“It is nice to see more people’s faces, but it still feels normal either way. I honestly forget if I’m wearing a mask or not,” said sophomore Andrew Klieger, who is currently attending school unmasked.

When the new masking protocol was put into effect, Klieger unmasked almost immediately because he forgot to bring masks to school. It was easier for him in the morning to not need to remember to bring one in the morning.

Unmasked students have also experienced awkward interactions stemming from removing their masks.

Sophomore Chase Usrey is one of the students who has decided to unmask, although his initial social discomfort has gradually ebbed away. He chose to remain unmasked simply because it is more convenient, as well as easier for him to breathe.

“There were some awkward moments on the first or second day after we were allowed to be unmasked,” he said. “I was going to get a COVID-19 test, and everyone in line was masked — I was the only one that was unmasked.”

High school teachers have responded to the mask mandate evolution in different ways.

French teacher Richard Day is still requiring students to wear masks during his classes due to health and safety concerns.

“I’m as impatient as anyone to get to the point where we can comfortably take our masks off, but we are not out of the woods yet,” Day said.

“I’m thankful that my students are understanding and continuing to wear masks in my classroom.”

As of now, Day does not have any plans to remove his mask or stop requiring French students to wear masks in his classroom.

On the other hand, English teacher Jason Hinojosa doesn’t mind if his students choose to leave their masks off in his classroom, as he doesn’t wear a mask anymore himself.

“I’m really grateful to see students’ faces. I feel like faces express a lot of emotion, and I feel much more connected to my students,” Hinojosa said.

“I don’t want that to be misunderstood as a request for anyone to do something they feel uncomfortable doing — I respect and encourage students keeping masks on to keep them on if that keeps them comfortable.”

Despite there being varied responses to the updated mask mandate, not much change has been made to the overall environment at Country Day.

“We’re all good friends here, so I don’t think the optional masking will affect the school’s social climate,” Pirie said.

— By Ava Eberhart and Lauren Lu

Originally posted in the March 29 edition of the Octagon.

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