Senior Sebastian Accetta works in the library while unmasked. Palo Alto Unified School District ended its mask mandate on March 11. Photo by Ken Ogata

Maskless at last

The first school day after the district-wide mask mandate officially ended on March 11, junior Meena Narayanaswami said some students immediately jumped at the opportunity to finally take their masks off indoors.

“I was honestly pretty surprised by how many people weren’t wearing masks in my class,” Narayanaswami said. “Maybe around half the class wasn’t wearing a mask, and my teacher was also not wearing a mask. It was an interesting change to see.”

While Narayanaswami plans to continue wearing a mask in her classes, she said she still feels safe with people removing theirs.

“The fact that everybody for the most part at Paly is vaccinated and staying safe generally makes me feel more comfortable with the fact people aren’t wearing their masks,” Narayanaswami said.

In the height of the pandemic, many students and staff saw maskless life as the distant future. Now, that future arrived; with the mandate lifted, students have the freedom to decide what is best for their personal health and comfort.

However, sophomore Aneesh Tiwari said most of the students and teachers in his classes are still opting to wear masks.

“Almost all my teachers are wearing their masks,” Tiwari said. “Maybe there are a few people in each class who aren’t, but I think the majority definitely are still wearing the masks.”

Spanish teacher Trevor Crowell said social conformity seems to be influencing students’ decisions.

“Sometimes a student will come in without a mask and see they’re the only one and ask for a mask,” he said.

English teacher Kindel Launer said she decides whether or not to wear a mask based on how much she is exposed to risk.

“You have to pull together how many exposures you’ve had,” she said. “When I get here in the morning, and no one’s in the (Media Arts Center), I’m not wearing a mask. I get here at 6:45 (a.m.), and the place has been empty for 10 hours.”

Launer said students’ maturity has stood out to her the most during the transition away from masks.

“I’ve really appreciated how it doesn’t appear to me that students are harassing each other,” Launer said. “I was worried about that, but it seems like people are making their own choices, and that their own choices are good.”