Students move through halls with and without masks. The mask optional trial returned in December until winter break. (Photo by Jake Lacoche)
Students move through halls with and without masks. The mask optional trial returned in December until winter break.

Photo by Jake Lacoche

Mask Trials

December 9, 2021

Masks made optional in the high school

On November 1, the high school lifted its indoor mask mandate after the school committee voted on October 22, authorizing an optional mask-wearing trial for vaccinated staff and students.

Hopkinton is the first district in Massachusetts approved to go maskless. According to the recommendation Superintendent, Dr. Carol Cavanaugh presented to the school committee, the town’s vaccination rate exceeds 95%, which also exceeds the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s 80% vaccination threshold to lower the state mask mandate. The three-week trial started runs through November 22.

Before the mask mandate was lifted, students were asked to take a survey. Student representatives Jessica Ianelli and Ryan Darbhanga showed 68.4% of students voted yes for the optional mask mandate, while 28% of students voted no, with 4% of students either providing no answer or maybe. Since 95% of 12-15 and 16-19-year-olds are fully vaccinated, this makes up most of the high school population excluding teachers. With these statistics, the school committee approved the optional mask mandate.

Ms. Shire, the AP Environmental Science teacher, said, “I don’t have too strong an opinion on it [the mask-optional policy]. I have a lot of faith in the vaccine. I know a lot of teachers with younger kids that are against it until their kids can be vaccinated.”

Like many other teachers, Shire is concerned about the consequences of going maskless. At the beginning of the pandemic, she stayed home due to health concerns but returned as soon as she received the vaccine. To keep herself protected, she already received the booster shot.

High school students have a slightly different view on the topic.

“Families are so much more interconnected between the schools than the administration assumes to be.” senior Victoria Allen said.

Allen sympathizes with the teachers’ opinion on the topic, “It’s valid for teachers to be worried. They interact with so many more students than we do.”

Most of the student body respects a teacher’s wishes to wear a mask if going maskless negatively affects the teacher or their family.

“My English teacher is pregnant. Going maskless could affect her pregnancy.” another senior, Katie Lundy said.

Lundy also brought up more concerns about masks. “I think it a good idea to have a trial run, but I don’t think that people would want to put their mask back on.” When the trial ends Lundy is worried things will never go back to the full mask.

On November 1, Hopkinton’s first day of optional masks, the student body didn’t go completely maskless. Almost half the students in the school kept their masks on.

The teachers have been very thorough about checking to see if all forms have been submitted to prove vaccination. The lack of forms and the number of students who want to protect a family member or themselves have led to a large number of continued mask wearers.

French teacher Ms.Lyons has begun to worry about family members outside of school, “People with unvaccinated family members could be affected by this trial.”

Similar to Lyons, Hay also had some safety concerns for unvaccinated students or family members. “My worry is something similar to the Delta variant could spread to family [members]  at home or spread through the school,” Hay said.

By the second week of optional mask-wearing, on Monday, November 8, the number of maskless students increased.

At 12:10 PM, November 9th, the first Covid case was announced since the optional mask mandate has been in place. The school is working to identify close contacts.

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Mask trial extended a second time

The week after the Thanksgiving breaks teachers and students were instructed to keep their masks on to prevent any Covid cases from spreading. That same week the school committee took a new vote regarding the optional mask trial.

A federal requirement states masks must be worn on all school buses and remains in effect. Over the holiday weekend, the MIAA declared all winter sports must wear masks inside.

Meanwhile, the high school maintained masks for the week after Thanksgiving.

During that week, at least two students were out of school with Covid. Their close contacts were informed to take precautions.

The students of the high school receive an email every time a student tests positive for covid. In the month of November, students received three emails. The students received only one email in October.

With the Covid cases increasing, and most high schoolers are unable to receive a booster shot since there currently is a minimum age requirement of 18. most students will surpass their six-month protection in the coming weeks.

The school committee meeting revealed the results from a poll given to students after the mask option trial before Thanksgiving. The survey included 260 student responses, roughly 25% of the student body.

Also according to the poll, 63.2 percent of students reported improved learning experience without masks.

Senior Kayali Pandian said, “My experience was good. I like seeing the faces of my teachers and friends and it made it easier to hear my teachers talk.”

According to the presentation made during the school committee meeting, teachers also reported students were better in-class discussions, “I feel better connected to fellow students while not wearing a mask,” Pandian said.

The school committee presentation also stated students with ADHD reported they had an easier time focusing on learning. Students also reported that it was harder to get one-on- teacher feedback.

“The mask mandate has helped me focus more on my classes, I always found the mask distracting and hard to breathe through, ” senior Henry Wailgum said.

The presentation also showed 71% of students respond the mask optional trial improved their experience by improving friendships, confidence, and led to happier hallways and a more recognizable high school experience.

“After a year and a half of having limited interaction with teachers and classmates, having the option to wear a mask enhanced my relationships and helped me make stronger connections with others,” senior Gabi Ciri said.

Students did also reported via the survey they were more cautious to avoid getting Covid. They worry they might expose high-risk family members.

“I’m hoping there isn’t an outbreak, I don’t wanna get sick even if it’s just a cold,” Pandian said.

Junior Bella Scalora agreed, “I like the mask optional policy, but there might be more cases.”

Survey presentation results also showed teachers reporting emails from students asking to be moved away from maskless students in classrooms. Some teachers also reported having a hard time giving one-on-one feedback because they didn’t want to get too close to a student.

Finally, 85.4% of students voted to return to mask optional.

“I think the mask optional policy is working well and is the best way to accommodate everyone’s wants and needs,” Ciri said.

With all of this information in mind, the school committee decided to reinstate the mask optional trial, effective Monday, December 6.

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