As Lake Ridge enters another school year under the cloud of COVID-19, masks have returned, not to the forefront of all faces, but certainly to the forefront of many minds. The national uncertainty over masks and the fight against COVID has been reflected in schools across the country, and Lake Ridge is no exception.
Anticipating the return of in-person students from last year, as well as virtual students, the Lake Ridge administration has adapted its COVID strategy in a bid to accommodate all students and mitigate potential outbreaks, all while attempting to return to some sort of normalcy after one and a half years of less than ideal learning conditions. One of these adaptations is the use of mask wearing, but not a mask mandate like the one in place last school year. Many students have continued to wear masks like senior, Amarachi Ekeke, who believes that masks are important in preventing COVID infection.
“I’ve seen the data for masks, and they significantly reduce both the transmission to other people and it also protects you from getting any transmission, even if you are close with other people, there’s less of a chance for you to get COVID,” said Ekeke.
The student population of Lake Ridge, like the country as a whole, has varying views on wearing masks, and the lack of a mask mandate gives students the freedom of choice and the ability to act on their own beliefs. Some believe that wearing a mask is simply not necessary anymore. Senior, Chase Turcotte, does not wear a mask, although he understands why some students do, and he believes that masking should purely be a personal choice.
“I feel like each student should be able to do what makes them feel safe and what they are comfortable with, we shouldn’t force anything. I do think that wearing a mask would shut down some of the spread of COVID, but I don’t wear a mask, I’m vaccinated so I feel like I can’t get it,” said Turcotte.
Although masks continue to be a fairly common sight in the school hallways, they are not universal. With the mask mandate now expired, some students have decided to make use of their option by attending classes mask-less. AP English Literature teacher and tennis coach, Christopher Peralta, has observed this change, although it has been less drastic than he expected.
“There are more students wearing a mask this year than I thought there would be. Judging from my classes, I would say there are about 50 percent of students who are wearing masks,” said Peralta.
Although masks are the most commonly seen preventive measure against COVID (despite the lack of universality), they are not the only factor in the school’s strategy to mitigate COVID-19. Several measures such as regular sanitization, staggering of bell times to prevent overcrowding, and the encouragement of hand washing, have still been maintained from last year. According to school nurse, Tricia Johnson, the district’s policy on COVID is a different one, but is fluid depending on the situation.
“There are huge differences compared to last year, we are not requiring quarantine as there is not a virtual option for students to complete their schooling. We are sending all names of close contacts to Tarrant County Public Health to do the contact tracing. They may change their minds at some point, the strategy changes constantly,” explained Johnson.
As for masks, the school is taking a neutral approach, “They are encouraging masks but not requiring masks. We can say it is a good idea to wear one but we cannot directly post signage encouraging it,” added Johnson.
Although the district is hopeful that its adapted strategy will continue to be effective in preventing outbreaks, the current measures pale when compared to the stringent social distancing, school-based contract tracing, and quarantine measures that were in place last year, as well the requirement of masks and the availability of online school for families who decided their students would be safer at home. Some believe that the district is not doing enough, and more stringent action is required to make sure all students are safe. Sophomore, Madison Nguyen, believes that the adapted strategy is not sufficient, and could also unfairly punish students.
“With new variants coming out and us still being in crowded spaces I think the smart thing would be to have a mask mandate. If you get sick you have to stay home and you could get a lot of absences and lose exemptions, and the hallways are extra crowded due to there being double the amount of people from last year, so I don’t think they are taking the precautions that should be taken to prevent COVID. I know money was an issue with online school, but if you are exposed there should be an option to go to quarantine instead of just missing school and getting absences,” Nguyen said.
However, others are not as critical of the district’s measures in fighting COVID. Though some restrictions have been lifted, others are still present, and there is now more choice afforded to students in terms of taking independent action to protect oneself. Senior, Adyn Tran, believes that there is a lack of effort in fighting COVID from the students, rather than the district.
“People haven’t really changed, people are still unsanitary, they just don’t act seriously towards it. I think that the effort is there, but it’s just the students who just aren’t doing their part to be sanitary and clean. Even if the school puts more effort into it, the students would still be the same and not take it seriously,” said Tran.
As the journey back to some form of normalcy continues under the threat of continued community spread of COVID, potentially supported by new variants, the issue of masks and the school’s COVID strategy will not fade away any time soon. The school’s fight against COVID will likely be a feature of another unique school year.