On Monday evening, Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly announced that masks will no longer be mandatory for all Upper Division (UD) students and Middle and UD employees while outdoors. After several weeks of COVID-19 testing, Kelly feels comfortable allowing a well-deserved mask break, he wrote.
Kelly collaborated with nurses from all divisions and members of the Administrative Council to make the decision, he wrote.
Nurse DeAnna Cooper said the school’s weekly COVID-19 case numbers have been very low — even lower than New York City’s. The community has done a great job of taking precautions and getting tested when symptomatic, she said. “We haven’t seen any transmission outdoors, so it makes sense to give students a break and staff and faculty a break while we’re outside.”
In his email, Kelly noted the importance of maintaining a three-foot social distance while unmasked outdoors. The school will also monitor students and employees absent for cold and flu-like symptoms unrelated to COVID-19, he wrote. If positive cases begin to increase significantly, UD students and MD/UD employees will immediately return to wearing masks at all times, Kelly wrote.
While Kelly is confident in his decision to allow UD students and MD/UD employees to not wear masks outdoors, he chose to not implement a similar plan for MD students, he wrote. He made this decision due to the large number of unvaccinated sixth graders and the stigma around select numbers of unvaccinated seventh-graders who would be required to continue wearing masks outdoors, Kelly wrote.
“We will revisit the possibility of a thoughtful mask break for our MD students if and when the age-appropriate vaccines present,” Kelly wrote.
Mask fatigue was a major factor in making the decision, Kelly wrote. “While everyone is doing their very best to comply with the school’s pandemic protocols, it is increasingly clear to me that our UD students, and even many of our employees, are struggling in the absence of safe opportunities to go maskless,” he wrote. Kelly wrote that he hopes the opportunity to be maskless outdoors will provide students and employees the chance to breathe and socialize more easily.
The school is following CDC guidelines, which no longer recommend vaccinated people wear masks outdoors, Kelly wrote. The school has also received external help when making decisions about new policies, Cooper said. Last year, the school hired medical director Dr. Miriam Levitt to help with decisions on COVID-19 policies, Cooper said.
Kelly’s decision will not change much of Theo Ziehl’s (10) daily routine as he will still have to wear a mask indoors, where he spends the majority of his day, he said. “It’s obviously fun when you’re outside with your friends and you don’t have to worry about keeping your mask on,” Ziehl said.
Harper Rosenberg (10) said the decision will not have much of an impact, because people will still wear a mask based on their own comfort levels, as they have been since the beginning of the school year.
Suzanne Silverstein P’23 ’26 said the lifting of the restriction will give students a more normal environment. She finds it important for students to have more time to breathe freely and see their classmates’ faces and expressions, she said.
Adjusting between mask-on and mask-off while at school has been challenging for Logan Scharlatt (9), he said. “I still keep my mask on even though I know everyone’s vaccinated because it’s a little bit weird to have masks on inside but take them off as soon as I get outdoors, it’s an unusual feeling for me, but I’ll get adjusted soon,” he said.
Physical Education (PE) Department Chair Amy Mojica has had a more difficult time remembering the names of students while masked, and believes outdoor PE classes will greatly benefit without any barrier. “You will be able to see your students, know your students better, pick up on facial cues. Interacting with people is a big thing when you’re reading expressions. That’s a lot of information that you don’t necessarily get,” Mojica said.
As long as members of the community remain vigilant and the number of positive cases remain low, Ovie Ayanruoh (10) believes the school should keep moving forward with their decisions regarding COVID-19 policies, he said.