April 19, 2022
Students grapple with on again off again relationship with masks.
On February 24th, the Howard County Board of Education announced that masks would be optional for schools in a 6-2 vote.
Starting March first, masks are now optional in Howard County Public Schools. Additional masks will still be offered by schools. Masks will remain mandatory on school buses and in the healthroom. HCPSS was allowed to lift the mask mandate because the county had met the Maryland State Department of Education’s off-ramp option one requirements. The announcement stated that “Any student, staff or visitor may choose to wear a mask, and should feel comfortable doing so.”
One of said requirements was that the Maryland Department of Health had to report 80% of eligible students and staff as vaccinated, and Howard County achieved an 89% vaccination rate. Howard County is following the national trend of lifting mask mandates. Only four states continue to have a state-wide mandate.
This decision reveals three sides of the Atholton population: those who will continue to wear a mask, those who won’t, and those who aren’t choosing one side. According to a poll taken by the official Raider Review Instagram page, 86% of students are going to keep wearing masks after March 1st. Many choose to wear a mask for medical reasons or because they don’t agree with the decision to lift the mandate. Those who choose not to wear a mask do so because of comfort reasons or they don’t feel that masks are necessary. Some aren’t making a commitment to either side of the mask mandate debate.
“I don’t want to be the reason somebody’s grandma dies,” said Atholton sophomore Mari Bonilla. Students who are immunocompromised or have vulnerable relatives generally are going to continue to wear masks. Students and staff who will continue to wear masks typically don’t believe that it’s safe to go maskless. Atholton teacher Mr. Douglas said that we should continue to wear masks until the end of the year to ensure safety, which fits into the popular opinion that the decision to lift the mandate shouldn’t have been made.
Atholton freshman Sitara Canada described the Board of Education’s decision as “making no sense.” They feel that the number of positive cases will spike after March first and this isn’t the best decision for students. Mr. Douglas echoed this thought. “Just last week, I had two students who were out for COVID related reasons. But this week it’s fine for everyone to take our masks off?” Others also feel that it hasn’t been long enough since the December spike in cases for schools to go maskless. “I like to believe that smarter and wiser people than me are making the choices; I’m not always sure that it is the case,” said Mr. Douglas.
Students and staff that feel that masks are no longer needed are happy with the decision HCPSS made. Atholton teacher Ms. Duvall explained that the large vaccination rate of students and staff made her comfortable with taking off her mask. Overall, those who choose to go maskless feel that Howard County is at a point where masks are unnecessary. There are also people who simply don’t want to wear a mask anymore. “ It’s not that deep. I just don’t feel like wearing it,” said Atholton sophomore Maya Johnson.
Some Atholton students aren’t going to strictly wear or not wear a mask. This group has a diverse set of reasons on why they aren’t choosing one side. Many students are going to wait and see what others do before making a choice. Atholton sophomore Isabelle Centers said, “If my teacher is wearing a mask I’ll wear a mask. I’m going to do whatever makes my teacher comfortable.” Another Atholton sophomore echoed this opinion, although she was more concerned with making students comfortable around her. No matter the reason, this group will not make a final choice in the mask debate.
There are many different opinions surrounding the lifting of the mask mandate. Regardless, Dr. Martirano encourages students to respect each other’s opinions. Time will tell how this decision will affect Atholton as a whole.