Managing masks: Teacher perspectives on indoor mask mandate lift

Librarians+Jacque+Giebel+and+Denise+Hernandez+sit+in+the+library+together+during+the+school+day.+Giebel+has+chosen+to+wear+a+mask%2C+and+Hernandez+decided+to+not+wear+one.

Photo credit: Noor Afshar

Librarians Jacque Giebel and Denise Hernandez sit in the library together during the school day. Giebel has chosen to wear a mask, and Hernandez decided to not wear one.

By Rose Sarner, Culture Editor

For the first time since Archer returned to in-person school, both teachers and students can teach and learn maskless during the school day. Archer’s administration lifted the indoor mask mandate Monday, March 14, following Los Angeles County’s lift earlier in the month. That week, about half of the student body arrived on campus wearing masks. Juniors Eliza Tiles and Martha Castro said they noticed a pattern in that many teachers opted to not wear a mask during their classes.

“The teachers were always the first ones to not wear masks,” Tiles said. “Many students were hesitant at first — and in the classrooms, teachers made them feel like it was okay to not wear masks.”

The Oracle surveyed Archer’s 70 faculty members via email asking about their masking behavior Wednesday, March 30, and 29 responded. According to the survey, 31% of faculty said they never wear their masks inside, 27.6% said they sometimes wear their masks and 24.1% of faculty responded that they always wear their masks.

Archer’s Health and Safety Readiness Guide requires all students, faculty and staff who are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to get vaccinated. Archer’s COVID-19 dashboard reported a 99.23% community vaccination rate March 17. Archer reported two COVID-19 cases for the week of April 14, 2022.

Math teacher Monica Barragán said she was initially hesitant to take off her mask, but decided it was her job to make students feel comfortable with taking their masks off.

“On the first day, Monday, I was carrying my mask around my hand and I was going to see what people are doing, but then I [thought] if students see me without it, they will feel more comfortable. So then I just took it off,” Barragán said. “So yes, I was a little bit hesitant, but then I was like, it’s okay. I feel safe, and most of the community is vaccinated.”

Some teachers expressed a strong preference for wearing masks and cited the value of KN95, and others have said that they felt safe because “almost the entire community is vaccinated and boosted.” An anonymous responder to the survey shared that they wear a mask to protect themselves and those around them.

“I have high-risk family members who I need to protect. I am not comfortable being unmasked around students and large groups of people, and fear the expected uptick in cases with this coming wave,” the respondent wrote.

Math teacher Mathew Bartha said lifting the indoor mask mandate has allowed him to create deeper connections with his students.

“I have noticed that students feel seen more. I can see their facial expressions and we are more connected. My students can’t hide behind a mask anymore,” Bartha said. “If they’re feeling a certain type of way, I can see the emotions on their face now.”

I do think the joy has always been there, but now, I just see it more.”

— Monica Barragán, math teacher

Science teacher Melissa Sharp said she noticed a social pattern that is connected to wearing a mask, versus not wearing one.

“[On the first day], I understood what was going on, I knew my choices, I knew what I’ve done, I knew the risk level, but it was interesting to watch students throughout the first day unmask because they’re trying to figure out what socially is happening and how they may feel,” Sharp said. “It looks like parents gave their children opportunities to make that choice, which I think is the right thing for our community.”

Barragán said she observed the learning difficulties students face while wearing masks.

“I am able to see more of my students’ expressions and see if students like something. [Especially] with math, I couldn’t see if everybody was confused, but now I can see that more,” Barragán said. “I also see a lot of joy because I get to see their smile.”

After lifting the indoor mask mandate March 14, Archer reported a COVID-19 positivity rate of 0%. When asked to share why teachers have chosen to take off their masks, teachers said that “smiles go a long way” and not wearing masks has increased overall class engagement.

“There are some classes with a lot of masks on and then some with no masks,” Barragán said. “So it changes, but overall, I do think the joy has always been there, but now, I just see it more.”