To Mask or Not to Mask


Gia Shin, Co-Editor-in-Chief

At the beginning of February, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced that he would be ending the mask mandate for schools, ultimately leaving the decision up to the hands of local school boards. Tenafly High School announced that, following Murphy’s resolve, it would be mask-optional starting March 7. Two years after the March 2020 lockdown, we’re finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The debate over mask mandates has stirred some of the most polarizing discussions, clashing over public safety issues and protecting individual choice. Students and staff in New Jersey were required to wear masks starting September 2020, when most schools reopened and Tenafly High School operated on a hybrid schedule. However, as COVID cases are on a rapid decline across the country, medical professionals have begun to question whether requiring masks is really necessary.

“Thankfully, we have reached a point where we feel confident that we can take another step toward normalcy for our kids,” Governor Murphy said. “Given the continued drop in new cases and hospitalizations, projections indicating a continued decline over the coming weeks, and the continued growth of vaccinations for our school-aged population, we believe that we can responsibly end the universal mask mandate.” Cases related to the omicron variant have been waning and hospitalization rates have significantly decreased; thus, many government officials believe that the virus will remain for a long time, without the severity of a pandemic. “I personally had COVID and I’m triple vaxxed, so I will not be wearing my mask,” Ellie Deutsch (’23) said. “But I respect everyone who wants to wear it because there is still a pandemic out there and people have health issues and need to wear it. But if the Governor says it’s okay, then I trust him.”

The Governor is breaking away from the CDC recommendation to continue mask mandates. He stated that because New Jersey was hit earlier by the omicron variant, the latest wave was receding faster too. Murphy also kept the state’s indoor mask mandate longer than the CDC recommended last year.

One of the main reasons for removing the mask mandate is its social implications. With a mask on, teachers feel that they are missing out on the full opportunity to interact with their students. Masks obstruct the ability to produce and read facial expressions, which are ways for teachers to glean how their students are feeling. Masks can also complicate social interactions because it is difficult to read the facial expressions of others when all you can see are their eyes. “Lifting the mask mandate does provide the opportunity for students to be seen and to be heard better,” Mrs. Oppedisano, Humanities Honors English teacher, said. “As a teacher, I miss that.”

Many students who already wear their masks improperly will not have to deal with teachers nagging in the halls and the classrooms. On the flip side, teachers will no longer have to be stern about proper masking. “They will see no need to wear them once the mandate is dropped,” Ryan Kim (’23) said. “I hope that even though the mandate is dropped, people still understand the dangers of the virus and respect [other people’s] spaces.”

On the contrary, students may feel pressured to remove their masks once they see others doing so. “I think that people will definitely feel pressured about the mask mandate based on their friends or sometimes even teachers. And I think there will be pressure from both sides; some people might make fun of you for not wearing it and vice versa,” Maral Tarpinian (’23) said. “So I think there is going to be some tension around the issue, but I think everyone should just do what they feel most comfortable with.” 

Mrs. Oppedisano further expressed her concern as well: “I do worry about students who are still nervous [about removing their masks], and whether or not that would make others feel pressured,” Oppedisano said. “That might start going into all these social dynamics that could make the last couple of months of school fraught, and I don’t want it to feel fraught.

I think for a lot of the teachers, we’d probably want to continue to mask because we also have to stay healthy for all of you. I personally would’ve felt comfortable with a little more time. But I’m feeling optimistic about having spring weather be something we can [take advantage of]. It would allow all that fresh air in and allow ourselves to say that this is a step towards endemic and not pandemic.”