With no mandate, masks become personal


Staff photo by Gabby Pawlowski

It’s been a good amount of time since the conclusion of the mask requirement within New Jersey schools. Getting to see fully uncovered faces of people throughout the building has become a privilege. Teachers are no longer reminding you to cover your nose, no more scrambling to attendance or the nurse’s office when you forget a mask and no more feeling restrained from the straps hanging from your ears. 

So far, the general consensus has been very optimistic that this is contributing to a sense of normalcy, which has not been the case ever since the lockdown of March 2020. In the words of Principal Diliberto, this decision to wear or not wear a face covering is up to each person as an individual. In light of personal choice, the story behind those who remain masked varies from person to person. The handful of students and staff that are seen protecting their faces shed some light on the reasons behind their decision.

“I wear a mask for two reasons: I have an unvaccinated 3-year-old at home, so because of that I try to be a bit more cautious than maybe some others, to protect her in some way or another,” business and Personal Finance teacher David Semaya said. “The other reason is that the way I see the pandemic evolving is that when there are opportunities to limit your exposure, I’d like to continue to do that. During the school day I’ve gotten very used to wearing it inside for six to seven straight hours and it doesn’t really bother me anymore.”

Family matters at home have been a reoccurring influence for some mask-wearers. A lot of people feel responsible for doing all they can to prevent and protect their loved ones from COVID-19. Elderlies, young unvaccinated children and those with health liabilities are especially at risk.

“I choose to still wear the mask because I have family at home that are at high risk and I feel responsible to not bring COVID home,” senior Clark Molfetta said.

“My grandmother is almost 90 years old and she got COVID last year,” one teacher said. “She’s had many complications as a result of it so I [wear a mask] to protect her… I always wear one in public.”

For those that have responsibilities to keep their families safe, it’s better to be safe than sorry. During the time that new changes are taking place and the school is experimenting with different guidelines and updates regarding public safety and health, there’s a lot of uncertainty. Whether the disappearance of masks is playing a role in the number of cases or altering the safety of the public is still up in the air. The appropriate time to transition into a maskless day to day life is up to those who it applies to and whether or not that’s something they plan on doing.

“I’m comfortable going maskless now that I have my booster shot, I’m just waiting for the right time,” Molfetta said.

From the get-go, it’s been the hope amongst the school that the administration and students who do and don’t choose to wear one will be able to get along smoothly. Hearing about the upcoming change was already surprising and exciting for some, but actually witnessing the crowds of people throughout the building with the lower half of their faces exposed has definitely taken some time to get used to. The emotions going around school have varied, with a mix of nervousness and positivity.

“I was a little concerned at first, but as long as I’m wearing mine I feel comfortable,” one teacher said. “But everyone should have their own choice.”

“I have no problem with [the school getting rid of the mandate],” Semaya said. “It’s become more of a personal decision. Everyone has their own risk factors or tolerance. A good portion of the student population has probably had [COVID-19] or has been vaccinated, so there’s no longer a reason to force a mandate on anybody.”

“I was happy for my students because things were trending in the right direction,” one teacher said. “As long as we remain at low transmission, not wearing masks is appropriate. Overall I was glad that my students finally had a choice.”

So far, school life has finally gotten back to as normal as possible. According to Gov. Phil Murphy, people need to start learning how to live with COVID-19 as a regular aspect in today’s world and take the steps necessary to maintain a safe environment for everyone, while transitioning into the typical lifestyle that was relevant pre-pandemic as much as everyone can.

“Not wearing a mask makes me feel more present and gives me more of the feeling that school is going to stay in person and that it’s nothing like how it was last year,” senior Caroline Seaver said.

The release from masks has given many students a good feeling about the future. Because most people are mask free, the classroom environment has become a lot more inclusive. Classes recently have consisted of frequent open discussions, group efforts and projects and the ability to clearly communicate and comprehend what your peers are saying without the muffled sound. For the first time in a while, the school community is eager to get back to how things should be academically, socially and orderly.