Yes, BPS Should Lift Its Mask Mandate

By Thomas Oakes (IV), Contributing Writer

Within a week of Governor Charlie Baker’s announcement that the statewide mask mandate for schools would be lifted, over 120 school districts across Massachusetts announced they would be lifting mandatory masking. Boston Public Schools, however, announced they would continue to require masks within the district. But this is a mistake: as rates of death and transmission decrease and vaccination rates increase, now is the time to give students and families the choice to go to school without masks on. Both the science and the experiences of students call for our officials to follow suit in giving students the choice of unmasking.

The understanding throughout this pandemic has been that once a certain level of risk is no longer present in the general community, people would regain the right to make personal decisions about their behavior regarding the spread of COVID-19. As a society, levels of risk are inherent and unavoidable. When the health risk falls low enough, it is the people’s right to make their own medical choices.

This is the reason why many people have decided to cautiously fall back into pre-COVID-19 activities without maintaining masks and social distancing.

It is time for officials to extend this autonomy to schools, especially in a city like Boston. Even with the majority of school districts lifting mask mandates, COVID-19 rates continue to fall throughout the state, down four percent in hospitalization, 16 percent in Intensive Care Unit admission and 36 percent in deaths over the past two weeks per data collected by The New York Times. Even as new cases inevitably appear, cases remain at their lowest levels nationally since last July. 

These trends are reflected in Boston, as cases across Boston Latin School fell to six last week according to Head of School Rachel Skerritt’s weekly update. This is all happening while indoor mask mandates have been lifted for venues including stores, restaurants, gyms and municipal buildings, showing that lifting mask mandates and giving people the right to choose has ultimately been a successful endeavor. 

“The science says that cases are falling, and with masks already being optional in the cafeteria [while eating] and in sports, […] I’d be ready to take mine off,” says Mark Snekvik (IV). This feeling is growing as sites with potential for high transmissions, such as the BLS dining hall, will be less crowded in the coming warmer months with more students choosing to sit outside.

Many argue that lifting the mask mandate during a time with the potential for a coming wave would leave high-risk students and families more at risk of COVID-19. Lifting the mandate, however, is about choice, and those families will still have the opportunity to wear masks in their day-to-day life, which the majority of the BLS community will likely continue to do.

With 72.7 percent of the Boston community vaccinated per city data and the majority of the BLS community vaccinated, levels of risk fall even lower.

Although caution is still necessary, we are finally at a place where individual choice can be restored, which includes adding schools to the growing list of mask-optional venues. It would finally give students the option to breathe freely during gym, interact with peers without face coverings and see their friends’ faces again for the final months of the school year.

Disclaimer: This article was finished April 2 and does not reflect the current rise in COVID-19 cases. Lifting the mask mandate would be contingent on low or stable cases, hospitalizations and deaths.