Drop the mask mandate: Despite transmission fears, it’s time for learning to take front seat

States like Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia all dropped their school mask mandate. When will Maryland do the same?

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Emily Rice

Is arguing about masks worth the time and stress? On February 22, the BOE will reconsider the mask mandate for schools.

by Emily Rice, Reporter

Masks affect students’ ability to make relationships and communicate with their peers. Facial expressions are a huge part of showing emotion. With half of a face covered, how can someone tell what we are feeling?

Not being able to see faces impacts teaching and learning. It’s time to consider dropping the mask mandate in school, and many doctors, leaders, and local community members agree.

I have been wearing my mask faithfully to school. Nose covered. After two years, my patience is at a breaking point. Although I am not at Board of Education meetings yelling to remove masks, I’m starting to see that it’s time for a change.

At recent Board of Education meetings, much of the comment time is taken up with discussing masks. That means less time spent on educational issues. In fact, on February 9, the Board of Education said it can’t remove the mask mandate without 80% of the residents fully vaccinated or without MSDE approval.

On February 10, Governor Hogan urged the Maryland State Board of Education to discontinue masks in all schools. He cited statistics like, “The state’s 7-day positivity rate fell to 5.12%, with 986 people hospitalized by the virus — down from a peak of nearly 30% positivity and nearly 3,500 hospitalizations last month.”

Carroll County Board of Education went one step further and filed a lawsuit against the Maryland State Department of Education to remove the mask mandate.

I am not sure how I feel about total mask removal because I’m worried virus rates will go up, but I also see the logic in doing away with masks. I am not sure how effective they are (beyond their obvious medical advantage).

Students tend to find learning more difficult when they can’t get the support and communication they need from staff. With no masks, students will learn faster and become more comfortable with themselves in school.

“If my teacher doesn’t give me the communication I need, it’s much harder for me to follow along and keep up,” said Class of 2025 member Heather Burdette.

According to an editorial in Bloomberg News, “Masks appear to make it harder for kids to mentally assess and process faces as a whole, which may weaken their ability to read other people’s emotions and form social ties.”

“Masks make me feel a little more awkward. I feel like I need to be more quiet. It hides my emotions and I feel like I can’t focus as much,” said Class of 2025 member Skylar Shields.

Many students agree that they feel less comfortable expressing themselves in masks.
Some students have said that without a conversation, they can never tell how they’re peers are feeling. This can cause issues with providing support to others, especially from a teacher’s perspective.

How is a teacher supposed to give emotional support in school when the teacher can’t read how students are feeling? Are they stressed, sad or happy?

Not being able to hear while trying to learn plays a big part in the question. Some students are too anxious to speak up and ask their teacher for help or for them to repeat themselves. This can cause students to struggle on assignments and tests. With masks, students also can’t tell who is contributing to a conversation they are trying to have.

“When I can’t hear my teachers, it affects my learning and understanding the information they are putting out. When I don’t get all the information I need, it affects the way I perform in the class,” said Class of 2025 member Rachel Battaglia.

Lancer Media surveyed the movement through the hallways between classes to see how many people at LHS actually wear their masks correctly during a normal school day. Statistically, 53% wear their mask correctly, 31% wear it below the nose, 15% wear it under the chin, and 1% wear the thin cloth gator masks.

“Now that the virus has been around for two years, people have stopped putting effort in wearing their masks right,” said Burdette.

With nearly 50% of students not wearing masks correctly, is the battle to keep masks in school worth the trouble?

For now, and unless Covid resurges in some new form, the potential harm caused by masks seems to outweigh the benefits. States and districts need to make a plan for relaxing these mandates — and then scrapping them altogether.”

— Bloomberg News editorial

Properly worn masks make a difference. Research shows that schools that require masks had a 37% lower COVID rate than surrounding areas.

“From a medical standpoint, masks slow the transmission of airborne communicable diseases significantly, and since Covid 19 is still unknown and evolving, it’s wise to wear them while around others,” said Mr. Chris Turner, science teacher.

According to this week’s FCPS Health Metrics Dashboard, Linganore has a 94.1% attendance rate, and the COVID rates of students and staff have dropped to 0.2%. I’d say with this data, masks have a good chance of not staying for long.

Turner agrees that metrics are the most important signal for mask removal, “I tend to follow the data since I am a scientist by trade. While I personally don’t like wearing masks, I am willing to do what’s right for the greater good. However, if the data supports a reduction in or removal of masks, and the county supports this as well, I’ll be the first to take this thing off! Sometimes it’s not about us- we need to think of immune compromised people in our lives.”