Mask mandates stay in place as new school year starts

By Hannah Dalton, contributing writer

As we conclude the first month of the 2021-22 school year, the effects of the pandemic are still very visible. While we undoubtedly have more freedom than we did last year and restrictions are beginning to lighten up, what we see in the hallways and classrooms of Nantucket High School each day may not be exactly what we had expected. 

Last year, when NHS Principal Mandy Vasil was asked about her hopes for this year, she explained that, “at this time, we believe that we will be full in person without masks when we return to school in the fall”. Last May, the indoor mask mandate for the island and the state of Massachusetts was lifted. Things were really seeming to take a turn and head back towards normalcy, but as we’ve seen time and time again with this pandemic, things are always changing. There hasn’t been a time in the past eighteen months where we’ve been one hundred percent sure how the future would go. At this point, the island’s mandate is back on, and masks are required when inside in public places. This applies to school as well, so the faces of NHS students and staff remain covered. 

Vasil commented that the continuation of face masks through the year was unexpected: “We anticipated that this would only be until October 1st but a proposal was… presented to the school committee to keep face masks in place until January 18”  The school committee agreed to this proposal, so masks are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

However, the mask requirement isn’t necessarily a negative thing. NHS Senior Mimi Belanger gave her opinion on this issue, stating that “masks are worth it to have almost everything else be like a normal year.” She also detailed her gratitude for being able to participate in sports and having activities such as those coming up for Homecoming for her final year of high school. 

Masks are most definitely far from the only part of our lives that COVID has affected. “Social distancing” is a term we know all too well. Last year, as the hybrid learning model was in effect, desks had to be placed six feet apart in classrooms. This year, distancing is not required, but “teachers may try to provide space between students in classes that are low in number,” Vasil said. One remaining restriction placed on classroom layouts is that all desks must face in one direction.

Lunch is another part of school that has changed. Previously, students were required to stay in their classrooms to eat lunch. Now students are back to eating in the cafeteria, but new options have been introduced as well; students may eat in the library or the Hall of the Whale. This change was made to reduce the number of students eating in the cafeteria, and another change with the same goal was the creation of a third lunch, that splits block 4 in half, students leaving their classes for 30 minutes in the middle of class and returning after they eat. Reactions to this lunch have been mixed from faculty and the student body.

Additionally, as of Saturday September 26, Vasil had not heard of any Covid cases in the high school since it started on September 7. She also confirmed the statistic that at least 80 percent of NHS students are fully vaccinated. 80% of students is an important milestone, as it is one of the requirements for the school to be allowed to stop requiring masks, as per Governor Charlie Baker’s order. Nantucket’s mask order must also be over, and the School Committee must agree to the lifting of mask requirements in school. If all of these requirements are met, students and staff who are fully vaccinated, and have been for two weeks, can go mask-free. However, students and staff who are not fully vaccinated and two weeks will still be under mask-mandate.

As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic, the list of activities students had to miss out on is lengthy, to say the least. Sports seasons, school dances, graduations, and regular school days have all, at some point, been stripped away. Students have spent months and months quarantined in their own homes, attending school via their chromebooks, or, when the hybrid model allowed them in person for some days, speaking to their friends at a six foot distance, faces covered with masks.

However, Class of 2021’s graduation and Junior Prom, and this year’s upcoming Homecoming festivities are just a few examples of events that would have not been possible just a year ago. “I think it’s good and it shows that we are moving forward,” commented junior Ellie Kinsella. She added that she is “excited for the prom because the media paints it to be this really crazy amazing event and I’m hoping it will be like that.” The fact that prom can happen this year at all is a reason for happiness for her. The first day of school began with an all school assembly, something that hadn’t been done since the pre-pandemic times. Lots of progress has been made, once again proving that things can always change.

It’s hard to say what the rest of this year will look like, but Vasil relayed her excitement and “anticipation that we’ll be able to continue as we started by planning and following through with school activities, some traditional and some new.” 

While a normal world, island, and school year still seem to be just beyond reach, it is already becoming evident that our school is the closest to normal it has been since March of 2020. Predictions are weak and always uncertain, but the hope and spirits of the NHS students and staff are strong. The sacrifices we make each day to keep each other safe will be worth it one day when we officially say we’ve returned to normal. Reflecting on how far we’ve come, many would already say this was all worth it. 

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