Hardly a bare face was seen outside George Washington High School on Monday as students made their way through the brisk morning air to their first mask-optional day of in-person learning since the onset of the pandemic.
Friday marked the last day of the mask mandate at schools in the San Francisco Unified School District, at least for middle and high schoolers. Masks will remain mandatory in district elementary schools until April 2—a move aimed at giving younger children and their families a bit more time to get fully vaccinated.
Judging from the overwhelming majority of masked faces, and the input of one student who asked not to be named, students at George Washington weren’t eager to ditch their KN95s just yet.
“It’s still a thing,” said one George Washington junior, referring to the pandemic. “I’d rather keep my family safe.”
But while plenty of students and teachers are sure to remain cautious for a while, some are ecstatic.
Before the first period bell, staff huddled at the entrance of George Washington, discussing the change and their differing comfort levels. Paraeducator Tina Rhodes approached colleagues with a happy dance and exclaimed, “No masks, y’all!”
“I feel free,” Rhodes, who has asthma, told The Standard. “I couldn’t wait. A lot of students are probably going to mask up. If we remain respectful and compassionate of peoples’ choices, I think we’ll be fine.”
Rhodes added that she would keep a mask handy in case some students prefer masking, like her own 13-year-old.
Teresa Padilla wore no mask as she worked security out front of Everett Middle School on Monday morning—chatting with parents and students as they arrived on campus.
Padilla helped one student named Rossy translate her feelings from Spanish to English for The Standard. On the one hand, Rossy said she welcomed the change. On the other hand, she was worried about being made fun of for her appearance after two years of attending classes over Zoom with the camera turned off and ubiquitous masking in school after that.
“I feel happy because the masks are going to be gone,” Rossy said. “It’s optional, of course. I’m gonna wear it.”
Gemma Cortez, a parent at Everett, wishes there was a way to separate vaccinated and unvaccinated students. She has had to suddenly pick up her daughter due to an exposure alert twice this year.
The San Francisco Department of Public Health estimates that 90% of 12- to 17-year-olds and 70% of 5- to 11-year-olds were fully vaccinated as of Sunday, March 13.
Unlike Rhodes, Sandy Lopez, another paraeducator at George Washington, said she will be keeping her mask on due to an 88-year-old immunocompromised mother at home. She wasn’t surprised the mandate was lifted, but feels safer with the precaution. She noted there were already students who resisted complying with the mandate, either not wearing it or not wearing it correctly.
“People are going to do what they’re going to do,” Lopez said. “I’m scared that it’s going to come back.”
Camille Cohen contributed to this story.