Students and teachers share mixed feelings about mask optional policy


Students work. Photo: Rebecca Cunningham

Rebecca Cunningham, Managing Editor

As Covid-19 case counts fall across Vermont, restrictions begin to loosen. For the first time in two years, some students and teachers arrived at school on Monday, March 14, without wearing a mask. Reactions ranged from concern to indifference to optimism. 

“I felt nervous walking into school,” Sloane Guillian ‘22 said. “I felt exposed.”

On March 14, the Vermont Department of Health and Vermont Agency of Education dropped their recommendations for schools to mandate masks, regardless of their vaccination rate. As BHS exceeds the 80% threshold previously required anyway, Superintendent Tom Flanagan and the Burlington School Board decided to follow the state guidance.

“I think it’s good for us to see each other’s full facial expressions,” Flanagan said. “There can be something isolating in wearing masks.”

Masking in school is now a personal choice. Everyone has reasons for their own preference.

“If I see people wearing masks, I put on my mask,” Seb Brown ‘22 said. “But if people aren’t wearing masks, then I don’t. It’s a simple and easy thing to do to look out for the people around you.”

Students ride the escalator at DtBHS after mandate lifted. Photo: Rebecca Cunningham

Briseis Roussell ‘25 lives with her grandmother, by definition at higher risk, and worries about bringing Covid-19 home. She wore a mask to school Monday.

“Girl, you see my eyes and my eyebrows: that’s enough,” Roussell said. “People need to wait until Covid cases decrease to take their masks off.”

Students and teachers also shared concerns about their physical appearance without a mask. 

“A lot of people haven’t seen my face since 7th grade,” Nadia Sylla ‘25 said. “Now it’s just awkward.”

Flanagan and School Board members gathered feedback from teachers and families as they considered lifting the mask mandate. They heard a wide variety of perspectives. 

“I believe we do have a school district with balance,” School Board Chair Clare Wool said. “I like being in a community where the pressure isn’t all one-sided. That’s the beauty of public schools.”

It’s time to start moving to the next phase,

— School Nurse Jessica Ballon


Emmanuel Amoah, a BHS math teacher, said he will wear a mask until the end of the school year. 

“There is still some virus out there,” Amoah said. “We lack windows right now, so I just don’t trust the ventilation.”

But Amoah also recognized that masks impede clear communication, making teaching more difficult.

“Sometimes I have to repeat and repeat,” Amoah said. “I get exhausted because I have to strain myself to project.”

BHS School Nurse Jessica Ballon reported that she has not seen an increase in the number of students with Covid-19 or related illnesses so far.

“It seems like a smooth start,” Ballon said. “But I think it will take time to see if infection rates rise, not only in terms of Covid but also the common cold, and the flu, and stomach problems.”

Ballon supports the new mask optional policy.

“It’s time to start moving to the next phase,” she said.