Many schoolchildren got to see each other’s faces for the first time in two years on Monday.
The New York Post reports that in the nation’s largest school district, most New York City students can now come to class mask-free. The only exception is students aged four and younger, who are not eligible to be vaccinated. But Mayor Eric Adams promised those kids would eventually have the option to be mask-free as well.
“We want to see the faces of our children, we want to see their smiles, we want to see how happy they are, we want to see when they’re feeling sad so we can be there to comfort them,” said Adams after announcing the measure for K-12 students on Friday. “The masks prevented us from doing so for almost two years.”
But some parents and students aren’t ready to quite give up on masks, like third-grader Derrick. He says he’ll keep his mask on because he doesn’t “want to get COVID.”
“Leave it on. There’s no reason for him to take it off until basically everybody is safe,” said Derrick’s parent, Michael. “I want my son to be safe. I’m sorry. That’s the way I see it.”
Other parents were elated to have their kids mask-free at last.
“I think it’s nice because kids can finally see their teachers talk, and I also have a younger daughter who has spent all her time with no face, right?” said one New York City mom, Andrea. “So for little kids, it’s really great because you can see the way words are pronounced and you can see spellings.”
Teachers’ unions have also nodded in approval of Adams’ decision, with United Federation of Teachers chief Mike Mulgrew calling the measure “responsible.”
“Our doctors agree with the city’s medical experts that this is the right time to safely move from a mask mandate to an optional mask system,” Mulgrew stated.
While some parents are happy that their kids have the option to go mask-free, others are still fighting to give their kids that option, such as in the case of children under the age of five.
“It is a blatant lie that children under 5 have higher hospital rates,” said parent activist Daniel Jampel. “Anyone with a computer and the Internet can go to the CDC Web site and see that hospital rates for adults over 50 are orders of magnitude higher than kids under 5.”
On Monday, Adams defended his decision to leave that age group masked, saying, “We’re going to do this in a very safe way, because I don’t want to close the city down and I don’t want to endanger our children.”
Other places in New York (such as Syracuse, Yonkers, Buffalo, Rochester, and Albany) and neighboring states (including Connecticut, Vermont, and Massachusetts) have also relaxed their mask policies. New Jersey has nixed its statewide school mask policy.
More places in the U.S., like Philadelphia and Chicago, are set to ease their school mask policies Even California, Oregon, and Washington announced they’ll drop their mandates by March 12.
Boston suburbanite Jason Chan doesn’t think it’s time to allow his kids to unmask. Chan says his five-year-old son has never had an unmasked schooling experience and would be fine to continue wearing a mask.
“Honestly, the kids have been doing better than the parents with the masks,” said Chan. “I hear a lot of parents upset but kids just don’t look at it the same way in terms of this civil rights issue. It’s like wearing a hat or a sweater for them.”
But for Melissa Bello, a mom from the same Boston suburb, the news that her kids get to remove their masks is a relief. Her eight-year-old son has hearing loss in both ears and has been complaining over the past few years about not being able to understand people wearing masks.
“He’s working harder everyday in school and coming home more tired,” Bello explained. “There’s not enough consideration for those kinds of tradeoffs in these mask mandates.”
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