With masks optional, many in the RE community breathe a sigh of relief


Lila Diamond '23

Students working without masks in a Spanish 4 class.

Throughout the 2020-2021 school year, members of the RE community were required to wear well-fitted facial coverings at all times, whether inside or outside, with the exception of eating or drinking. For the entire fall 2021 semester and part of Spring 2022, the masking requirement remained in place with just one change: the community was no longer required to wear masks outside. On February 6, however, RE families opened their This Week @ RE email to an announcement from Head of School Mrs. Penny Townsend that was unexpected to many: the school was making masks optional. Since then, masks have become increasingly rare on campus, finally creating, for many, the feeling of a return to normal school life. The school remains on high alert, however—as do many community members who continue to wear masks.  

Why was February 6 the right moment? According to Mrs. Townsend, it was all about the case numbers. “We’ve always been talking about watching the numbers, the numbers dropped. It seemed like a good thing to do. People are tired of wearing masks,” she said. 

In the first few days following the announcement, there was an awkwardness surrounding the issue. Students battled with the decision of whether to wear a mask. Although there were some students who decided to keep it on for health reasons, many others worried that their decision to take the mask off would lead them to be judged, or simply make them uncomfortable. “I was shocked and excited at the same time, because I felt relieved but also uncomfortable going to school without a mask,” said Jordan Gonzalez ’24. Like Gonzalez, Lauren Page ’24 felt “shocked and hesitant because I didn’t know how everyone else would feel. I also had some hesitancy due to my teachers, who had previously been more cautious.”  

In the weeks that followed, however, the process of de-masking sped up rapidly. Eventually, students had almost universally abandoned masks, with only some holdouts.  

As masking became the exception rather than the norm, some members of the community remained concerned about the spread of COVID on campus. Director of Student Health Services Marie Gregorio explained, “My concerns were, and are, how the change in policy could impact those in our community most at risk of serious illness or whose family members are at risk, because of underlying medical conditions or who are currently ineligible for vaccination.”  

As Mrs. Townsend pointed out, however, a mask-optional policy still allows community members to wear masks if they choose to. “There are still some people that are uncomfortable with COVID and are concerned about their health, but we knew that with the mask optional, people still had the option to wear masks,” she said. 

For Amelia Fox ’22, who continues to wear a mask, the choice remains easy. “Personally, I think there’s no reason why people can’t wear a mask inside; I feel like it protects those who need protection and would keep everyone safer. If you walk around school even today, you see hundreds of kids sniffing their noses and coughing, and during a time where the pandemic is still raging and variants are still emerging, we should protect our families not prioritize our selfishness.” 

Head of the Upper School Ms. Patricia Sasser provided some faculty insight into why she still chooses to wear a mask. She explained that she is just trying to protect herself and others, and with the recent uptick in cases, it makes her feel more comfortable. 

Three months after the decision was announced, the RE campus now looks similar to the way it looked before the COVID-19 pandemic upended everything. Following the transition to mask-optional, Upper School English teacher Elizabeth Anderson’s initial reaction was “Thank the Lord.”  

Looking forward into the future, Townsend and Gregorio are optimistic about the school’s ability to maintain the current policy. However, they were explicit that the school is ready to re-implement masks on a moment’s notice if we see another surge.