Masks optional in CHS, differing opinions guaranteed


CHS students are no longer required to wear masks in school.

Henry Frieman

Students at Communications High School were finally able to see the entirety of each other’s faces on Monday, March 7, as the mask mandate officially became optional for schools in the Monmouth County Vocational School District.

In a statement issued Thursday, March 3, the MCVSD said that “families may decide whether it is appropriate for their students to wear a mask for health purposes.”

“We’re ready,” said MCVSD head nurse Dorothy Condon in reference to the district’s choice to go mask-optional.

New Jersey governor Phil Murphy announced on Feb. 7 that he would lift the mask mandate for schools, citing a drop in both cases and hospitalizations as well as an increased vaccination rate among school-aged children. Although the mandate would be lifted, districts would be given autonomy as to their requirements for students.

The MCVSD pandemic response team, which includes Condon, MCVSD superintendent Dr. Charles Ford, MCVSD Assistant Superintendent Sean Meehan and approximately 15 other high-ranking MCVSD officials, met 10 days after the announcement to discuss the route of action the district would take. The decision: mask-optional.

Students who wish to wear their mask will still be able to, but it will no longer be a requirement.

“The most important thing for us is making sure that we’re doing what we need to do to support students, teachers and members of our community,” Meehan said.

As students filed into Spanish teacher Karen Britto’s classroom Monday morning, she did not don a mask. However, she informed students of her plan to go maskless.

“My only goal is that all students are comfortable,” Britto said.

Many students, like Britto, ultimately decided to take their masks off.

“I’m not wearing [my mask] because it’s been so long wearing it, and I feel like the precautions my family and I have taken make it safe enough,” said sophomore Eliza Madore of Atlantic Highlands.

Others, such as senior Wyatt Lux of Long Branch, have found masks have had an impact on their mental health.

“As someone who lives with an immunocompromised person in my household, I’ve gone through a lot of stuff with my family and them being freaks about [COVID],” Lux said. “It’s been degrading to my mental health, so I’m a little bit over it now.

Junior Maddie Lee of Middletown feels as if she’s done enough to protect herself and her family from COVID-19, and decided to forgo her mask.

“I’m vaccinated and boosted, so I really don’t think there’s anything else I can do to prevent myself from getting COVID,” Lee said. “My entire family is also vaccinated, so I’m not too worried about them.”

Although the student body has been particularly affected by mask-wearing, some students, including junior Chase Gellington of Wall Township, feel the decision may have been made hastily.

“I feel like it might put pressure on people to stop wearing masks, even if they feel more comfortable wearing them,” Gellington said.

In announcing the lifting of the mask mandate, Principal James Gleason implored students to remain understanding about each other’s decisions.

“Different people have different circumstances, whether it’s elderly or grandparents living at home, or it’s their own illness,” Gleason said.

For Spanish teacher Sabina Campbell, the ability to remove masks will be beneficial to teaching her class.

“I feel that students have been affected [by mask-wearing] and also the teachers,” Campbell said. “When you’re teaching a language, half of the time it’s hard to understand what the kids are saying with their masks on.”

History teacher Thomas Ross agrees that ditching the masks will be helpful to both teachers and students, citing unfamiliarity with newer members of the CHS community.

“I find myself looking around, and I don’t recognize some of the freshmen in the lunchroom when their masks are off,” Ross said.

Outside of lifting the mask mandate, several changes have been made to district policy. After-school and extracurricular activities will be mask-optional and if students test positive for COVID, they must still follow CDC guidelines and isolate for five days.

Principal James Gleason is still considering reverting lunch format to what it was before the COVID shutdown, where students were able to do as they wished without many constraints. However, no change has been made yet.

“I think we just need to take things one step at a time,” Gleason said. “I’m not ready to change lunch yet.”

Unless a new outbreak occurs or COVID-19 numbers rise, the mask-optional policy will be a fixture in the district.

“There is nothing at this point that is going to dictate that we are putting the mask on,” Gleason said.

As a post-COVID era rises at CHS, students and teachers begin to return to what things were before life was put on hold for the past two years.

“It’s time,” Campbell said. “It’s really time to go back to normal life.”