Maddy Hammett

Lower school encourages mask wearing during pandemic, adapts based on age

All over the country schools are enforcing mask wearing to help keep members of the school community safe. While mandating masks for upper school students appears to be straightforward, lower school administrators have approached the mandate differently to better suit the needs of younger students. 

Masks have been mandated across the country and in most school districts. Most schools must follow the appropriate mask wearing guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization, however some depend on the school district. 

A recent study published in Health Affairs, found that the growth rate before and after mask mandates led to a slowdown in daily COVID growth rate. After three weeks of the mask mandate, the daily growth rate slowed by three percent. It has been made clear by countless recent studies that mask enforcement greatly slows the transmission rate and spread of COVID-19. In turn, these mandates have become essential in keeping students safe during in person learning. 

Upper school mask mandates operate according to the guidelines set by the CDC. These guidelines have set the standard for all in person safety regulations. 

“When used consistently and correctly, along with other important mitigation strategies, masks may help slow the spread of COVID-19,” as stated on the CDC website. “It is recommended that people wear masks in public settings and when around people who live outside of their household.”

As mask wearing has become more essential to keeping school communities safe, along with the mandate comes disciplinary enforcement. If an upper school student is wearing their mask under their noses or on their chin, or is refusing to wear their mask, they are issued a community health violation, similar to a community violation. Students may also receive a community health violation for wearing a non ESD approved mask. ESD masks have been mandated to keep masks looking uniform and to ensure that all masks cover the students nose and mouth. 

Assistant Head of Upper School, Jeff Laba and Head of School David Baad decided a disciplinary system that would enforce mask wearing among upper school students was necessary.

“Teachers have two options,” Laba said. “They can issue a regular [community violation] if it was just sort of a little mistake…but if they feel it is something stronger they can issue what we call a health violation. There’s also a set of rules that say that if you have more than two health violations within a week then you have to learn remotely for a day and if you have multiple within a certain period of time it can escalate to having a student learn remotely for up to a week.”

Mask enforcement becomes a little less clear for younger students.  Head of Lower School, Tracey Shirey worked tirelessly in the summer with lower school students and parents to ensure a safe school environment during the pandemic.

“We really come from a love and logic standpoint rather than a disciplinary standpoint,” Shirey said. “We demystified the masks early on by showing videos to the kids and giving masks to the parents when we did our Eagle Camp in the summer before this school year. We also made sure that if a child was really struggling to keep their mask on, the teacher could suggest a mask break rather than disciplining the student.”

As the year has progressed, lower school students became more used to mask wearing. Lower school teachers note that while the initial discomfort from the masks was difficult for some of the younger students, most of the students have little problem with the masks now. 

“Surprisingly, they have adapted very well,” Pre-kindergarten teacher Cindy Ragan said. “I would say the children have definitely gotten better with the masks as the year has progressed. At the beginning of the year, most of the children couldn’t wait to take their masks off for a mask break once we got outside to the playground. Recently though, I have noticed that most of the children don’t even bother to remove it now when we’re playing on the playground. It’s as if they aren’t phased by it at all anymore.”

One of the major issues for mask usage in the lower school hasn’t been making sure the students are willing to wear their masks, but instead, making sure the masks fit the younger students.

 “The biggest struggle we’ve seen has been with our 3 to 4 year olds and making sure the masks fit for them,”Shirey said. “So we’ve had to use nose bridges and synchers to help keep the masks in place. Their faces are just so small that without the synchers, masks would naturally fall throughout the day. “

Although upper school and lower school both have different ways of enforcing and regulating mask wearing, one thing remains the same. Masks are essential for all students to keep everyone on campus. After months of online school last year, students have grown to appreciate the environment in person learning has to offer, and not just upper school students but also lower school students understand the importance of mask wearing while in person. 

 “One thing that has really been helping our kiddos has been that when we went into quarantine in March of last year, students really wanted to be in person again and they were really willing to do anything necessary so they could be learning in person again,” Shirey said. “That has really worked in our favor for sure.”

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