March 7th: A Return to Normalcy?


Masks, masks, masks. They’ve been the topic of heated controversy among governors of many states. Are they effective in a school setting? Are we better off keeping them on while in school, or taking them off? Recently, a flurry of Democratic governors announced that they would be lifting their states’ mask mandates for public schools. New Jersey Governor Murphy, who has imposed some of the strictest COVID-19 related restrictions in the country, announced in early February that students and school employees would no longer be required by the state to wear masks in schools effective March 7th, in light of the plummeting Omicron variant cases in the state and across the country. Remarking upon his decision, Murphy noted that “we have reached a point where we feel confident that we can take another step toward normalcy for our kids.” While many applaud Governor Murphy’s move, some remain skeptical of the motives for his decision, pointing out that he waited to remove this mask mandate until he no longer required the NJ Education Association’s support for reelection. 

While we can never be sure what actions Governor Murphy will take in the future, for now his position remains that “the overwhelming sentiment on both sides of the aisle is we want to get to a place where we can live with this thing in as normal a fashion as possible.” Of course, Murphy’s decision does not automatically make every school mask-free—it simply gives that decision to individual counties and school districts.  Local school districts have faced and will continue to face pressure from both groups who believe that masks are the best way to keep students and teachers safe and those who want an end to “unnecessary and ineffective” mask policies that “fly in the face of medical freedom,” as one NJ parent put it. 

In response to the Governor’s decision, the Morris Hills administration announced in a letter that “masks will no longer be mandated in the Morris Hills Regional District” for anyone on school campus. The administration also thanked parents, guardians and students for cooperating and being flexible with the school’s previous guidelines and requirements. 

Student and teacher responses to the unmasking were initially mixed.  Mrs. Patterson, teacher of English, commented that even though it may “give herself a sense of relief” to take her mask off, she “may keep hers a little longer.” One benefit of keeping her mask on, she noted, was that “it would be nice for students who were uncomfortable taking their masks off” if they saw their teachers still wearing masks. After almost two years of constant mask-wearing in all public places, many students felt comfortable taking their mask off. Synthia Mani, sophomore, noted that taking off her mask “just makes her feel like [she’s] a normal high school student again.” Others, however, are hesitant to take off their masks, either because they’ve simply gotten used to wearing them or they’re concerned about potentially catching the virus. There are some, however, like Riya Jain, senior, who prefer to take their masks off only in certain circumstances. Riya prefers wearing her mask in the hallways because it “makes [her] feel more comfortable about attending school and coming into contact with so many people,” while in some of her classes she feels comfortable enough to take her mask off. 

On the morning of March 7th, as Dr. Toriello oversaw the entrance of students into the building, like many of us he couldn’t help but notice “all the smiling faces” and the “buzz” in the student body. He hopes that we can soon return to “some normalcy with socialization” and says he can’t wait to see what the last four months of school will bring. This is a time for our school community to once again come together, be respectful of each other’s choices regardless of the choices themselves, and for many of us to truly hit a reset on social interactions.