What happens when the rules say it’s okay for masks to come off?


Ingrid Reginato

A masked woman stands in a crowded train on the red line towards Chicago.

Aarti Gupta, Editor-in-Chief

On Friday, Feb. 4, 2022 a court ruling issued by Sangamon County court Judge Raylene Grischow issued a temporary restraining order stating that masks were no longer required for plaintiffs involved in a court case against the mask mandate in Illinois schools. The plaintiffs involved more than 700 families in the entire state; however, for Indian Prairie School District 204, that amounts to eight families in the entire district.

While the students of those eight families are no longer required to wear masks, the first domino has fallen in a chain reaction of redefining protocols regarding wearing masks in schools. Masks have become such a commonplace item in the past two years that they are now almost second nature. The roles have almost reversed: it may have been startling to see someone walk into a store with a mask three years ago, yet it is sometimes more startling to see an entire face in public now.

Ideally, with the passing of every day, we are closer to living in a time where COVID-19 mitigations will no longer be required by a governing body. So what happens when the rules say it’s okay for the masks to come off?

If individuals choose to continue to wear a mask, are they going to be labeled as paranoid liberals that cannot see past their own fear? What about for the other portion of the population that will choose to remove their masks? Are they just going to be seen as raging conservatives with no regard for their neighbors? Then, there are those that have chosen to only wear masks if there is no other option, like flying on an airplane. Will they speak out and shame others for following a tyrannical government while they wave their maskless flag with pride?

It’s almost like our latest wave of peer pressure. Instead of talking about consuming alcohol and drugs, our health classes this year should just use the example of wearing your mask. Do you want to fit in with your friends and seem cool? Take off your mask. Pull it below your nose. You might as well just pull it down to your chin while you’re at it. You all rule the school, so who cares? Are you a nerd with no friends who simply cares about their grades? Wear your mask. In fact, you should wear two. Maybe you should even invest in a KN95. Your COVID-19 test is just another test for you guys anyways. 

No matter the stereotypical example that someone lines up with, this is for sure: stigmas have been created. When stigmas are created, judgments are passed. The concerns here then stem to the school environment. Some students may advocate that they do not want to sit next to a maskless individual because they do not feel comfortable, perhaps they have a pre-existing condition or live with someone that does. If the teacher makes the seat accommodation, are they going to be viewed as placating to the liberal agenda? If they do not make the accommodation, are they in favor of no masks and do they have no regard for the rest of humanity? 

If a student asks why someone isn’t wearing a mask, are they going to get an honest reaction from the teacher or is the teacher going to follow the script they’ve been given by administration: “Sometimes there are things that apply to some people and not to others. You might consider it fair or unfair. Our emphasis is on respect for that difference and a sense of community that is focused on learning. So, we are going to move on.” 

Is the comfort and safety of all students really the priority right now or is it the school’s and district’s reputation and standing? 

Although the examples are extreme, many arguments have become binary, and it causes us to generalize people based on simple decisions instead of viewing them as human individuals. These are genuine questions that come to mind when thinking about these mask mandates, and the answers we’re getting may not be truthful.

For now, these questions might seem purely hypothetical, but if the junior year English curriculum teaches us anything, it’s that hypothetical situations are a form of support that will least get the gears churning. The mask mandate still exists. Many people are following a slippery slope to believe that the end is in sight, but who’s to say that it’s not a hasty generalization? 

What’s to come in the future is unknown by us all, but some layer has fallen, and it’s not just the mask off our noses. It will be difficult to see past this.