Unanimous Repeal of the Mask Mandate
Updated: Apr 1
On Feb. 16, the Greenwich Board of Education voted with a united front on the topic that has been polarizing the town and the country at large for two years–the mask mandate.
The board, consisting of eight elected members, oversees policymaking for 16 schools across the district. Their unanimous decision to lift the mask mandate for students and staff alike in all Greenwich Public Schools will be in effect starting Tuesday, March 1.
Board chair Kathleen Stowe said that the meeting to make the decision was upholding “a requirement immediately once there was a change in the mandate,” which was an executive order. Stowe and board member Michael-Joseph Mercanti-Anthony agreed that Greenwich’s high vaccination rate, which is amongst the highest in the state, made it possible for them to vote with such unilateral confidence.
Member Christina Downey elaborated on her own personal rationale for voting in favor of lifting: “everyone seemed to be living their life almost back to normal and compelling masks in the schools seemed artificial given that.”
Downey also shared that the board tried to be conscious of how their decision would impact many different groups including students, staff and their families.
Mercanti-Anthony further disclosed that “hundreds of people emailed the board about masks. Those emails ran almost 20 to 1 in favor of lifting the mandate. It wasn’t even close.” It certainly seems that a ratio of similar proportions has manifested itself in the student body with the majority of GHS students choosing to liberate the bottom halves of their faces.
He admitted that his vote was better motivated knowing “the CT Department of Health said that they were comfortable with communities with high vaccination rates going mask optional.”
The motivations vary for the minority in the GHS community who have opted to keep their masks on.
Sophomore Alex Evans imparts that he keeps his mask on primarily for the sake of his parents, though he himself wants the protection the mask offers for a while longer. “I want to be safe and keep everybody safe,” he says. Regarding the board’s decision, he shares, “I’m not entirely against it. I just think it’s a little too early.”
Almost everyone in Evan’s family has had COVID, and this has made him more cautious, but he has never contracted it himself.
Ms. April Kassman, who teaches Academic Intervention, also has never gotten COVID herself, but continues to wear her mask. She knows that she is extra susceptible because she has not been endowed with the antibodies that come with getting the virus the first time.
Kassman has also had several family members contract COVID, and it not only makes her more cautious, but she acknowledges that “the experience has been very painful, I lost an aunt to COVID… and that was heartbreaking.” She is now concerned about the BA.2 subvariant, but knows her anxiety will wane as the virus “just becomes part of our environment.”
Math teacher Dr. Erik Gundel continues to keep his mask on to protect himself and his family members who are at a higher risk, and is uncertain of when the virus will no longer warrant worry. In the meantime, he states simply, “I think there’s no reason that you need to ask someone why they are not wearing one, it’s just whatever makes them feel comfortable and you just respect that. That’s it.”
Sophomore Kelly Jansen opts to go mask-free and is pleased the board has taken this measure towards establishing “a sense of normalcy.” Both she and her twin contracted COVID back in December, but her relatively mild experience with the virus did not worry her significantly about getting it again.
At the same time, Jansen understands that a person’s decision to wear or not wear their mask is personal. “I respect people that do choose to wear their masks.”
She is reassured knowing that “a lot of people have taken precautions like getting boosted and just the vaccine in general.” Though she believes that the virus will never disappear, she thinks that another big spike in cases is unlikely.
English and theater teacher Mr. Richard Kohn deliberated for a while before he decided to remove his mask. “It’s always about numbers and statistics,” he says.
“I’ve always felt like I’ve been behind a mask, metaphorically, as well as literally,” says Kohn, who is ecstatic that masks no longer obstruct the personal connections he once struggled to make with students.
Still cautiously optimistic about this development though, he says, “we should be prepared that we may have to go through another setback at one point.”
Whether the virus has truly begun receding into obsoletion is unclear, but it is certain that this decision is a momentous one in Greenwich High School’s return to normalcy.