Mask Off

The School removes the mask mandate


Kyle Berlage

Students across Bishop’s have been taking their masks off in classrooms and indoor spaces. Some, though, have been keeping them on.

Mask mandates across the United States have been dropping like flies. From Republican bastions to blue states across the country, an unprecedented bipartisan unity has arisen in favour of removing indoor face covering requirements in most settings. However, in many states like California, K-12 school environments have lagged behind in lawmakers’ race to drop the mask. This all changed when the California Department of Public Health announced on February 28 that the statewide K-12 school masking requirement would be eliminated after Friday, March 11.

That same day, Bishop’s followed suit, announcing through an all-school email that campus rules would follow the guidance from California authorities. Beginning on the week of Monday, March 14, Bishop’s will no longer require face coverings to be worn indoors. However, both California and Bishop’s will continue to “recommend” mask-wearing indoors. Assistant Head of School Mr. Michael Beamer said in the all-school email, “At Bishop’s, we will align our policies with this new approach.”

This new approach has fallen in line with similar directives from political leaders across the country. Despite no change in official CDC guidance in K-12 schools, which recommends universal masking despite vaccination status, the vast majority of states and local governments have made the decision to move past masking. In most Republican-held states, they either had no mask mandate or one which expired in 2021. However, most Democratic-held states have repeatedly made changes in their mask mandates.

Most recently, California reinstated its universal mask mandate from December 15 through February 15 due to the surge in cases from the omicron variant. Additionally in California, masks have been required indoors in K-12 schools since October 2020, when schools were permitted to return to in-person instruction. This is the first time in over one and a half years that schools will be given the choice to require masks or not.

The decision was made due to declining case rate and very high vaccination rates in the state of California, as well as San Diego County specifically. On February 28, the day of the announcement, the San Diego County case rate was 37.3 cases per 100k—nearly ten times less than the peak of the omicron surge in January, according to CovidActNow. Additionally, the infection rate—the number of people an infected person transmits the virus to—has crashed since the surge, at around 0.84 people on February 28. Additionally, Mr. Beamer said in the email, “While we know that members of our community have a wide range of feelings on masks, we are confident that this is a safe approach given the high vaccination rate and declining cases in our community, along with improved ventilation and air purification in indoor spaces.”

Despite the mandate dropping, many people are making the personal choice to continue mask-wearing on-campus. The Tower conducted an Instagram story poll of our followers, finding that of 117 respondents, 49 percent said they would continue wearing masks on campus after the requirement is lifted while 51 percent said they would not.

Eli Browne (‘23) feels split on the issue as well. “On the one hand I think that the return to ‘normalcy’ has to come at some point, but on the other hand I do imagine there are some people—for example older teachers—who may not be as pleased as some students are,” he said.

“I love having the mask off because I get to see the faces of my classmates and peers. I remember the connection I used to have in the classroom and I feel like a small bit of that is back,” said Eva Levy (‘22). “It’s like 2019 again and I’m all for it. The rec room is so much more alive too now that masks are off.”

Mr. Beamer acknowledged that there would be a wide range of reactions to this new policy. In the email, he said, “As we transition from mandatory masks, we ask that you respect the choices of others in our community even if they differ from yours.” However, the email left some ambiguity.

The removal of the mask mandate from the statewide authorities still allows for individual schools or districts to enforce local mask mandates past the requirement set out by the state. For example, San Diego Unified School District, which includes nearby La Jolla High School, announced that they will keep their mask mandate enforced until after their own spring break, which ends on April 4. Sweetwater Union High School District, managing high schools in the South Bay, announced that their mask mandate would continue indefinitely.

Bishop’s is no outlier in immediately allowing mask choice. Most North County school districts, like Carlsbad Unified, San Marcos Unified, and Poway Unified, have announced that they will no longer require masks indoors. Rancho Santa Fe Elementary School District, which controls only R. Roger Rowe School, has acted in defiance of the state mandate since February 21 by removing the requirement for masks indoors.