On the afternoon of March 9, faculty members received an email from Head of School Russell Shaw announcing that the indoor mask mandate at GDS will be lifted. Students and families received the same news in an email an hour later. The mask-optional model will begin on Monday, March 14, and will remain in place indefinitely.
Shaw said in his email that the administration made its decision based on guidance from the CDC and Department of Health, D.C.’s low rate of infection and the 99 percent vaccination rate at the school. “D.C. metrics indicate that we are currently at ‘low,’” Shaw wrote. “These same low rates are reflected in our community, with a rate of infection well below one percent.” He added that one-way masking is proven to be effective, linking multiple articles with research on the topic.
Students interviewed by the Bit before the announcement was made had differing opinions on masking becoming optional. Freshman Henry Cohen said he was “all for” the mandate being lifted. “I’m so tired of masks and it’s been so long,” he said. “I feel like now that D.C. has lifted the requirement, we should just go ahead and do it.” Cohen believes that some students would still wear masks even once the requirement is lifted, but said that he wouldn’t. “It’s their choice,” he said, and added that whatever students decide to do won’t bother him.
“It’d be exciting,” Assistant Principal of School Life Quinn Killy said before the decision was publicized. “I think it’d be nice to see people’s faces.”
Junior Zaira Chowdhury was staunchly against the mask mandate being revoked. She explained that she has several people in her family who are immunocompromised, and said she feels the idea of not everyone wearing masks is “very scary.” Chowdhury did not come into school at all last year due to her concerns regarding her family’s safety. Now, though back on campus, she says that she is still very careful with her masking procedures.
“I’ve worn two or three masks to school in an effort to just not get it [COVID],” she said. She added that, despite her concerns, she has become less worried about contracting the virus over time, especially because she believes so many students and faculty members have already had COVID.
Sophomore Max Froomkin echoed Chowdhury’s reservations. “I think it would be a really bad idea,” he said. Froomkin does not view masking as something that limits students’ daily lives at school. “It doesn’t actually impede the learning environment or even the social environment,” he said.
Dance and acting teacher Maria Watson said she was excited about the possibility of masks becoming optional, particularly since she believes it will be helpful to both her and her dance students. “The dancers and I are not using our bodies efficiently because of the masks,” she said. She explained that because of the physical demands of dance, wearing masks makes class more difficult.
Watson said she would not wear a mask once it became optional. “Since so many people are vaxxed and boosted, I’m not worried about it,” she said. “If any place is safe, it’s GDS.”
In the new masking protocols detailed in Shaw’s email, he stated that no one on campus will be required to wear a mask, but that guests will still have to show proof of vaccination. Teachers will not enforce masking and no spaces or gatherings at GDS will require masks.
An hour after the announcement came out, freshman Joelle Walters told the Bit she would continue to wear her mask despite it sometimes being uncomfortable. “It’s just the sense of security now I know they provide,” she said. “And even though COVID hasn’t been flaring up as much as it used to, I still don’t want to take it off.”
Sophomore Julian Montes-Sharp said that he wasn’t expecting the announcement. “Considering this past Monday we just had our first all-school assembly since the first semester, and considering that recently, the lower school outdoor mask mandate was lifted, I was surprised,” he said. He thought it was especially surprising because he believed that GDS has taken a very cautious approach to COVID protocols in the past.
Montes-Sharp also suggested that, due to the new regulations, GDS should require students to get tested weekly, instead of the current biweekly policy. He said that he believes more frequent testing of community members would “definitely help” control the spread of the virus.
“We are an inclusive community, and we will continue to educate our students on all of the reasons people may choose to wear a mask, or choose not to,” Shaw wrote. “We will celebrate all of our community members for whatever choice they make.”