How Masking Impacted My in-school experience

Wearing a mask in school was annoying and socially stunting, but it made me feel safe.

by Marylene Bioh

Marco Fileccia, Unsplash

After one year of online learning in 8th grade, I chose blended learning for my freshman year at Beacon High School. I only had to go in person one day a week, and during the rest of the week my classes were held remotely. But I soon learned it didn’t really make sense to go in just one day since other students were taking remote classes, and teachers came in just to sit in a classroom and teach on Zoom.

I finally went back to school full-time last September, when I began my sophomore year. My principal stood at the entrance each morning to welcome us, and he seemed happy to be there.

I had a bit harder time getting to know my fellow students, though. I had to fight the urge to pull down my mask when socializing, and at times I felt this made it hard to connect to others. I thought I wasn’t making friends quickly enough in high school, and I wondered if masks contributed to that.

Eventually, I met more people during extracurricular activities. I joined the Step Club, Black Student Union, the Guitar Lessons Club, and I tried out for basketball. But it was sometimes annoying to be masked during all of these activities when I wanted to express emotions or even just breathe after a hard workout. 

I eventually made a few friends during lunch. That was the only time during the day that felt like normal school, since we were able to pull down our masks to eat. 

A Masking Controversy at School

In March 2022, more than halfway through my sophomore year, New York City Mayor Eric Adams lifted the mask mandate in all public schools. I never imagined that day would come. I was happy yet worried when I heard the news, even though masks had felt like such a burden. 

“Would we really not listen to adults who strongly suggested that we wear masks?”

At first it was funny to see some classmates without their masks; I thought to myself, Oh my goodness, is that really you under there?!  

I was even more surprised when controversy engulfed my school shortly after the mayor’s announcement. My principal was criticized for allegedly trying to pressure mask-wearing in class. In an email he sent the week of the mask mandate being lifted he stated: “And while teachers cannot mandate a mask in their classroom, they may request that students wear one as many of us have vulnerable ones at home.” This incident was covered in the New York Post

I saw his point, but it still felt like our choice was being taken away if the teachers were allowed to tell us to wear a mask when we were just granted the choice not to wear it. Would we really not listen to adults who strongly suggested that we wear masks? 

I also felt some sorrow for him being attacked in the media. He was hired as a replacement principal during 2021 when we were learning online. It must have been a burden for him to try to understand and protect his students, his staff, and their loved ones during a pandemic. 

I thought about this a lot. I decided I still worried that regressions in safety precautions could lead to increased rates of COVID-19 cases again. So even after the mandate was lifted, I still wore my mask when taking the subway to school and in class. I estimate that a good 50% or more of students still wore their masks in school.

There was only one time when a teacher brought up masking, when my math teacher informed us of a new Covid variant peaking in New York, particularly in Manhattan where my school is located. He stated that he wasn’t forcing us to wear masks, but suggested that we should consider that choice, which I felt was a respectful way of approaching us. 

The criticism of my principal died down and I still see that much of the school community respects him. At the end of the day, my biggest fear was that I’d have to relive the nightmare of that day in March 2020, when schools shut down. Back then, I didn’t know if I’d ever be back in school again. I would hate to go through that horrible phase of the pandemic again, and so that’s why I keep my mask on.

Discussion Questions

1. Although Marylene thought wearing masks adversely impacted her school experience, what factors contributed to her keeping on the mask after the NYC mayor lifted the mask mandate in public schools?

2. Even though Marylene agrees with some of the pushback against the principal, what reasons were given for students to consider keep wearing a mask? 

3. How did lifting the mask mandate affect your school? How did you decide to keep wearing your mask or not?

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