By Fiona O'Reilly
It has almost been two full years since March 13, 2020, the day New Hyde Park Memorial High School shut down in response to COVID outbreaks, and controversy regarding how the virus should be handled is still at an all-time high. In the past two years, New Hyde Park has fluctuated between fully remote, hybrid and full in-school learning. However, the best solution for how students should get their education remains a topic for debate. Throughout all of the inconsistent phases of COVID-effected learning, many would say that in-person learning is most beneficial for the well-being of students at New Hyde Park, but the prolonged discourse surrounding mask wearing still causes division.
I am sure we all know a friend or fellow classmate who is often caught slacking off when it comes to their civil responsibility of wearing a mask. I, for one, would be untruthful if I said I didn’t pull down my mask in a group at lunch or whilst talking to a friend sitting at the desk next to me in class. However, how far can we stretch the limits of the mask mandates at New Hyde Park before it becomes too much? This question was truly put to the test on January 25 when the New Hyde Park community was not required to wear masks in the classrooms and halls as we usually would. Many students and some teachers came to school unmasked for the first time since March 2020. While many students felt this was a breath of fresh air (quite literally), I felt rather shocked and stressed.
Artwork from Lindsay Kim
Many members of the student body and the staff were ready to come to school unmasked once it was not required.
The excitement from some students regarding the change in the mask mandates was not a feeling I embraced. Instead, I felt uneasy. To me, wearing a mask in school seemed like a no-brainer. After almost two full years of being conditioned to accept the pandemic chipping away at normalcy in my life and the lives of students and staff at New Hyde Park, wearing a mask in school seemed like a fair trade off if it meant I could see a few friends on the weekend or not have to worry about passing the virus to elderly family members. I was initially shocked with the number of students and staff that came to school unmasked, leaving me with a major question of uncertainty about the future of NHP: how would this affect my education and the education of other students?
Overall, COVID-19 has changed education drastically. A full school year disrupted by remote learning lowered the standards of education for many students. I noticed teachers being lenient with late assignments, assigning projects instead of tests and struggling to hold engaging lessons to their class through a screen, in which most students were uninterested. This lack of consistency has resulted in the lack of motivation for many students. As we returned back to school for a full in-person year, most felt fear that a disorganized year would simply repeat itself. For me, the repeal of the mask mandate was a threat to the normalcy our school has worked hard to rebuild. In my opinion, the board’s quick reaction to reinstall the mask mandates was the correct decision and made me feel confident that our school takes the virus seriously and is prioritizing students’ safety and well-being.