Students have been wearing masks in school for over a year, but with many eligible to get their vaccines, many are wondering when they can take their masks off. 

On October 26, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) declared that masks will remain required in schools until at least January 15, 2022. This was announced a few days before the mandate was supposed to expire on November 1.

Schools with at least an 80 percent vaccination rate can be exempted from this date. Hopkinton, which has a 98 percent vaccination rate, and Ashland, which has 84 percent student and 96 percent of faculty vaccination rate, are the first two schools in the state that have made the mask mandate optional for vaccinated students. 

Over 80 percent of students are vaccinated at the high school, but despite the high vaccination rate, the school will keep the mask mandate until the deadline. 

“The decision to extend the mask mandate beyond January 2022 will be made in the district will be made at the district level, not the building level. We will follow the guidance of our Central Office and the Board of Health,” said Collin Shattuck, an assistant principal at the high school.

In addition to inside the classroom, many have concerns about mask-wearing in other aspects of school, which include eating in the cafeteria during lunch, walking in large groups outside, and riding the bus. Students need to take off their masks during lunch but are highly recommended to sit at least three feet apart at the tables. Students can walk outside maskless but are urged to wear their masks in groups when outside. Masks are required on buses. 

Many students trust the school requirements. but have not decided yet if they will take off their masks when they can. Abby Steinberg ‘22 will wait to see if her classmates take off their masks to decide if she will or not. 

“I find [masks] really hot, they are keeping the hot air in my face, so I will probably take it off, but I am still going to be very careful. It also depends on how the school is going to deal with it. How many people aren’t going to be wearing masks, then I will be wearing my mask, I will fall into that category. If people are taking them off, I will take them off,” Steinberg said.  

This decision ultimately comes from the school’s specific data regarding COVID.

“The district makes their decision based upon the available data (local, statewide, and national) pertaining to COVID and in consultation with health experts to determine the most appropriate course of action,” said Shattuck. 

At WHS, the high vaccination rate often misleads students to believe they can take their masks off during school. Many people at the school are still at risk of getting Covid, so it is extremely important to keep masks on. Shari Johnson, a nurse at the high school commented on the importance of mask-wearing at the high school.

“We are lucky at the high school that we have a lot of people vaccinated, but that is not the entire district. It is just an equitable thing that the whole district, all staff, and students, have to be in masks, so there is no guessing who’s vaccinated, the discrepancy between grades, and who can and cannot be vaccinated. I think it is a fair and easy thing to do,” said Johnson.

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