Maintaining the Mandate: Multiple perspectives on Duval County’s mask policy
October 24, 2021
Four Duval County students walked into school on September 7th with the taste of cloth masks on their lips. None knew how exactly the mask mandate would alter their schools’ mask policies. None knew if the mask mandate would alter the mask-wearing predispositions of their peers.
On September 7th, Duval County passed the 90-day mask mandate for all public schools, but the mask mandate’s effort to stop the spread of COVID among teenagers has been minimal in coverage—as minimal as the coverage of masks on teen faces. Students from Douglas Anderson, Nease High School, Stanton, and Englewood still roam crowded hallways sans masks.
Englewood senior Paul Mims woke up on September 7th with COVID on his mind, brushed his teeth, fixed his hair, and put on his mask only to be disappointed that his classmates weren’t following the same routine upon his arrival into the school.
A week before the implementation of the mask mandate, Mims said Englewood diffused announcements and sent mass emails to parents to confirm the mask requirement. The school changed its mask policy from one that students could opt out of to one where the opt-out procedure was limited to students whose health was threatened by mask-wearing. Mims stated, “They’re doing a really good job trying to implement it, but it’s just that my peers don’t want to listen.”
As a previous carrier of COVID, Mims’ persistence for mask-wearing supercedes his experience of the discomfort of the mask. The smudged edges of his glasses and the building heat under his mask are not worth the complaint, Mims pointed out.
The true danger lies in the infection: “I’ve had COVID before,” Mims said, “I wouldn’t want it again, and I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through that.”
Mims’ sense of personal responsibility stems from his title as Mr. Englewood, the student representative for his class. He is a role model for the students. “They see me doing the right thing…I just try to lead by example.”
Yet one student’s sense of personal responsibility cannot displace the claustrophobia of a hallway with unmasked students. The “bombarding” hordes of students begin at 7:05 a.m. when students make their way to their first class of the day and continue between the intervals when teachers dismiss classes. “One of my biggest discomforts is walking through the hallways to another classroom and being bunched in with a bunch of other kids and half of them aren’t wearing their mask properly, aren’t wearing it at all,” Mims said.
COVID’s spread seems inevitable for Mims. The “wishy-washy” enforcement of the mask mandate by teachers and the selective participation of students in obeying the mandate makes classrooms uncomfortable for Mims, not to mention breeding grounds for COVID. Mims emphasized, “Some teachers [enforce] it because they have to [enforce] it … I’d rather be certain that I have a decreased chance of catching anything, rather than being in a classroom where the students are comfortable… but they’re not safe.”
The mask mandate is a life saver.
— Joselien Vasallo ‘22
Sia Patel, a senior from Nease High School, also noticed a theme of obeisance regarding the mask mandate, as students wear them solely for the purpose of obeying the rules, rather than promoting health. Patel remarked about the strange prioritization, “I think that people who are wearing [a mask], now that it is being enforced, care about the law.”
As a surgical mask wearer, Patel feels comfortable at school knowing her mask-wearing has become second nature. Despite commenting on the number of non-mask wearers at her school, she stated, “I see kids not wearing it all the time…I wear a mask regardless, so I know I will be safe in my classes.”
Much like Mims, she knows that she cannot change the minds of non-mask wearers by herself. She carries a sense of responsibility for her own mask-wearing but feels as if others’ refusal to wear a mask doesn’t affect her sense of safety.
The “nose out” mask is the most common fashion for Nease students, Patel remarked. However, the condition of the mask’s facial coverage is ever-shifting for most students and dependent upon the severity with which the teacher enforces the mandate. If the teacher is strict about mask-wearing, masks slide up. If the teacher is lax, masks begin to slide down as the class progresses.
Yet Patel’s personal mask policy is evergreen. She only takes off her mask at lunch and when waiting in the parent parking loop while social distancing, keeping it on and over her nose in all other classrooms. Unlike other students at Nease, the sweat under the mask due to the Florida heat does not warrant a protest for Patel.
Unlike Patel, Aidan Curran, a junior at Douglas Anderson, notices the inconvenience of the mask more after the mask mandate. The claustrophobia of Douglas Anderson’s crowded halls plus a constantly shrinking cloth mask—thanks to the shrinking capacity of washing machines—creates a less than pleasant violation of personal space for Curran. “I get tired of it at times, but…we should just be able to deal with it.”
Reflecting his mask complaint is the position of his mask: right below the nose. Although he knows he isn’t properly wearing his mask, Curran stated, “I just don’t notice. Obviously, I’m breathing better that way.”
Curran also slips off his mask when socializing or performing scenes, noting that “it’s better to project.” However, Curran feels a sense of guilt for not wearing the mask, evident by his shifting eyes. “Even though I’ve never truly had judgment from others when I improperly wear a mask, it’s just the thought of that judgment…I feel bad because I think about what they could be thinking or saying.”
Joselien Vasallo, a senior at Stanton College Preparatory, sees another side of the issue, fully wearing her mask at all times. She bites her tongue when maskless peers pass by, feeling uneasy around unmasked students, often underclassmen, at Stanton. “If they want to get COVID, it’s up to them. If they don’t think it’s that serious, let them pay the consequences,” Vasallo stated.
But because the majority of her friends support the mask mandate, she only gently nudges them to put their masks back on and they always oblige.
Vasallo, herself, only takes the mask off after school when she gets into her car. (She breathes a sigh of relief during the interview indicative of her satisfaction at relieving the restlessness of having a mask on her face.)
While Vasallo says that the majority of the students wear their masks, some “don’t respect the rules.” With every conversation about masks and vaccines that she engages in, she wonders whether or not her peers understand how COVID can affect the human body. “The mask mandate is a life saver,” she said. “Some people don’t realize that COVID can kill you.”
Perhaps, a common thread among these four students is the resolve to roll with the punches. Come mask mandate, come mask mandate repeal, come all, not even a global pandemic can stop students from weathering the storm of education.