To Mask or Not To Mask


Katie Tanner, Contributor

On Thursday, March 4th, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey announced that she would be extending our state-wide mask ordinance until April 9th, at which point she wouldn’t extend it further. To many, this comes as a relief, though maybe for different reasons. Alabamians remain fiercely divided on whether we should continue wearing masks or not, so many are happy the mandate was extended while others are happy that it will expire. Ivey stressed in her conference with state health officials that, though the statewide mandate would be expiring, counties and private businesses could require masks themselves.

This raised questions among both teachers and students of Bob Jones. If the state mandate expired, would we still have to wear masks at school after that? Should we?

In my opinion, masks have to be made mandatory at least through the end of the school year. Many students, myself included, were forced to pick in-person schooling due to limited online options. My hesitance stems from the fact that my dad is very high risk, meaning my family has to be extremely strict with COVID guidelines. I haven’t hung out with any of my friends since November when cases began to spike again. We had to decide to put me and my sister in in-person school because our classes weren’t offered virtually, even though in-person school would put our dad at risk. That decision was only made because Madison City Schools promised that sanitization, social distancing, and masking guidelines would be followed.

Not requiring masks isn’t as simple as just “if you’re high risk, stay home” and “if you’re scared, you can keep wearing a mask” because that isn’t how this situation works. We can’t “stay home” from in-person school because that would be truancy. We can’t be the only ones wearing masks because everyone has to wear them for masks to be effective.

The school system can’t say “well, we can’t make students wear masks” because every school has a restrictive dress code, which they enforce.

Ending mask requirements on April 10th, the first school day after the mandate expires, could cause a spike in cases. A spike in cases could cause many quarantines right before AP exams and finals. I believe we should just require them until the end of the semester and reevaluate in August, after the state has (hopefully) opened up vaccine appointments to the general public, so more students are vaccinated.

However, I’m not the only student at Bob Jones with an opinion on this, and everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. I sent out a survey to other students. Of the responses, 8.6% of students indicated that they already refuse to wear their masks at school and in public. It isn’t shocking that most of those students also indicated that they had had COVID, but I digress.

Of the responses, 70.7% of student responses indicate that they wish to keep masks required until the end of the semester, and many shared common concerns about small, non-ventilated classrooms, spreading COVID before exams, etc. On Governor Ivey ending the mask ordinance, one Bob Jones junior said, “I think that it’s not the best choice. Many people act like they wear the masks to protect themselves, but in reality, wearing a mask mainly protects others from you. If the mandate is lifted, many people will stop wearing masks because they will say they aren’t worried about protecting themselves, but this will actually harm others more than it will harm them.” They are justified in this concern, as COVID usually spreads in people that are violating guidelines and having group gatherings, going out to eat in large groups, etc. Those people violating guidelines also tend to not wear a mask and would risk getting other students sick if masks weren’t mandatory. A sophomore made another good point, saying, “Covid isn’t over and we haven’t vaccinated enough people to go without masks.” She’s correct: only 7.3% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, per the CDC’s reporting. And though cases are falling, Alabama’s seven-day average for COVID test positivity was still 995 reported cases per day.

On the other side of the spectrum, many students want Madison City Schools Superintendent Dr. Ed Nichols to end mask-wearing at school when the state mandate ends. One Bob Jones senior said, “I am so happy we are finally getting back to normal. After seeing the success states such as Florida have had since lifting the mask mandate and opening up the state really makes me excited for Alabama to follow soon.” For context, Florida reported over 6,000 new cases yesterday alone. Another student criticized the Governor for extending the mandate, saying, “She should have done it when it expired and not extended it longer, this is a violation of freedom and another way the government is trying to systematically hold us down. Wear a mask if you want but it should be up to the people to decide for themselves, not the government to force us like a socialist country. Especially for a disease that is more political than anything.” (The grammar and punctuation errors were purposefully left in this quote.) It is a piece of fabric. Does having to wear a shirt or pants “systematically hold us down”? Really?

There is nothing political about the 520,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19. There is nothing political about 520,000 funerals, 520,000 empty seats at dinner tables, or 520,000 grieving families. Madison City Schools has been very lucky to have not had a student die of COVID since the pandemic began, but is that what it’ll take for people to realize this isn’t a joke? That this isn’t just some inconvenience to ignore?

Madison City Schools should not rescind mask requirements on our campuses. Thankfully, Dr. Nichols has expressed in an email that Madison City Schools will continue to wear masks, but we’re lucky because not all schools– like Cullman– are keeping people safe. After April 9th, we will have just over a month of school left. If it means keeping high-risk students, teachers, and parents safe, we should all just suck it up and wear a mask for a bit longer.