Ending mask mandate brings mixed views at Amherst Regional High School

  • Amherst Regional High School GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 2/28/2022 7:01:23 PM
Modified: 2/28/2022 7:00:57 PM

AMHERST — With the state allowing school districts to decide whether they want to lift their mask mandates as of Feb. 28, students and teachers have mixed feelings about doing so at Amherst Regional High School.

ARHS has a vaccination rate of over 85%, which means the mask mandate can be lifted whenever school officials feel it is reasonable, as the state had earlier set an 80% threshold for vaccination. 

“I think that the risk for high school kids is very low,” ARHS sophomore Johann Bishop said when asked whether ARHS should lift the mask mandate. “There are also other precautions in place, such as pool testing and the rapid tests they’ve been giving out to protect against COVID-19. Also, I think a significant amount of the student body is already vaccinated. I think those precautions are sufficient.”

Amherst, like some other towns, is waiting for the local board of health to decide on its municipal mandates when it meets on March 10.  Superintendent Michael Morris has said the schools are counting its guidance before making any decisions, and that any change would require time to implement.

ARHS English Department Head Sara Barber-Just said she trusted the high school’s current COVID precautions.

“Our schools have been really safe in terms of masking, vaccine mandates for staff, pooled testing, and ensuring a safe return to in-person schooling. I trust that if we get to a point where the mask mandate has been lifted in our school, it will be done later than a lot of other places in the state and with a lot of deliberation and careful analysis of science,” Barber-Just said.

According to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study done in September, students in Arizona were 3.5 times more likely to contract COVID-19 after the mask mandate was lifted. It is hard to directly relate that data to Amherst schools potentially lifting the mask mandate, because vaccination rates are higher in Amherst, and the booster shot has increased in availability.

“There’s a good chance that masks might have to come back during another surge, and as any teacher knows, once you get rid of a rule, it’s very hard to bring it back. So better to play it safe and keep the mandate in place,” chemistry teacher Evan Mahnken said.

ARHS sophomore Brodee Fournier shared the same opinion.

“No. People are still getting sick,” Fournier said when asked if thought the mandate should be lifted. “The vaccine helps, but people are still catching COVID.”

When it comes to lifting the mask mandate, sophomore Elliot Phifer pointed out the distinction between masking in sports and masking in the classroom.

“I don’t think there’s a reason to in the classroom, but I think they should for sports,” Phifer said. “I don’t think the masks are making much of a difference, and people aren’t wearing them that much anyways. So I don’t know how much of a point there is. But I think it makes sense for them to stay in the classrooms.”

Even if the mask mandate ended in school as of Feb. 28, not everybody would stop wearing masks.

“If the mandate was lifted right now, I would still continue to wear a mask,” Barber-Just said. “I don’t think we should rush to relax things because it’s safer for us as individuals but instead because the most vulnerable in our community have expressed that they feel safe to do so. We’re not there yet. Masking is an annoyance to me, but it’s something I am glad to do to keep others safe, including my dad, who is vulnerable because he has a transplanted lung and is on supplemental oxygen and dialysis.”

Phifer shared that sentiment.

“I’d probably keep (wearing the mask) if I knew people wanted me to,” Phifer said. “If people are worried, then I’m not going to worry them for something that is really easy.”

Talvin Dhingra is a student at Amherst Regional High School and writes occasionally for the Gazette.


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