On Monday, Feb. 7, 2022, Governor Murphy announced that the in-school mask mandate was set to end on March 7. While schools had the option to enforce their own restrictions, Kingsway announced officially on Feb. 15 that they would adhere to the mask optional policy when the mandate ended.
After two years in a pandemic-effected learning environment, students are prepared to adapt to the constantly changing COVID-19 protocols. However, for the first time, they take comfort in knowing that this is the end in terms of school restrictions.
“The best part of the end of the mask mandate is being able to feel normal,” explained Ella Stephenson, junior.
Over the last few years, students have experienced education in a variety of formats. From virtual to hybrid, to socially distanced and masked, the Kingsway community has truly handled the new challenges with grace and strength.
One idea that Kingsway Regional School District has emphasized within the last five years is “One Dragon Family”, which is their philosophy surrounding inclusivity across their student body. Many students mentioned in conversation that they are excited to make their family whole again by being able to come together and see each other’s smiles for the first time.
“The best part of the mask mandate ending would be being able to see everyone’s faces again in class,” mentioned Logan Schaffer, sophomore. She continued by expressing that much of the conversation within the classroom relies on students building off what one another say and the body language they have while saying it.
The masks made it difficult for students and teachers to understand each other. This increased tension within the classroom, ultimately caused fewer students to participate and speak up in class.
While academics are important, what happens in the halls proves to be much more important in terms of student life, than that of the library. With the superintendent’s announcement that masks would become optional, many feared that this would lead to increased social tensions between those who continued to wear a mask and those who did not. In light of this assumption, students have found that this is, in fact, not the case.
“I think that for the most part, people understand that some people wear their masks for different reasons and that it is their choice to do so,” Schaffer clarified. Stephenson agreed by explaining that a vast majority of students are willing to accept each other regardless of their choice. The community recognizes that Kingsway is home to students from an abundance of different backgrounds, so it is important to respect individual decisions and a person’s reasons for making them.
In terms of the impact during the first month of mask-optional protocol, there has not been a rise in cases among students, faculty, and families. “It almost feels like covid has gone away in a sense,” claimed Schaffer.
In many ways that sentiment is true. Case numbers have drastically decreased within Kingsway and the community at large. However, this does not mean that all anxieties surrounding the pandemic have immediately been lifted.
“I am still concerned that people won’t take the proper precautions with the vaccine or stay home when they feel sick,” mentioned Stephenson. She continued by explaining that in spite of these lingering worries, she feels very safe at school and happy to no longer be wearing a mask.
The return to an unmasked school day is a nuanced situation. Though, for the most part, students are thrilled to find a sense of normalcy that they have not seen since the winter of 2020. Hopefully, they remember that normal includes smiling with their whole face, and no longer just their eyes.
By Audrey Pachuta