Last to go mask-optional

Jacob Bullock, Reporter

As of Monday (Feb. 21) morning, U-High remained the only public school in the area that had not shifted to a mask-optional policy.  This difference in mitigation approaches led a group of students to coordinate a protest, one that did not happen because by Monday evening acting director of the Laboratory Schools Dr. Barbara Meyer had sent an email stating: “effective Tuesday, February 22, masks will be highly encouraged but no longer required for students at the ISU Laboratory Schools.  Face covering requirements for faculty, staff and ISU students will be optional starting February 28.

“Safe,” “messy,” and “unpredictable,” were three words seniors Sydney Casey, Nick Leonard and director Meyer used to describe the state of COVID-19 and the shifts in its mandates. 

Other area schools transitioned to mask-optional based on a series of court rulings, but U-High falls under ISU policies.

“Our president (Dr. Terri Goss Kinzy ) has done research on COVID, she has the opportunity to speak to other presidents, along with the emergency management team on campus,” Meyer said. “They’ve done a great job in making sure the right decisions were made and the right people were at the table who made that decision. Legal Counsel, Communications team, my dean (James Wolfinger, College of Education) and other deans, as well. It wasn’t a one-time conversation”

COVID positivity rates in McLean county are decreasing. As of Feb 24, The Pantagraph reported 46 new COVID cases, down from the highest point of 1,281 (Jan 6). So where does this leave students as they make the decision to mask or not? 

“I think they (masks) are appropriate in some situations and not necessary in others. For example, in hospitals masks should be required,” Leonard said.

Thankfully I was able to maintain strong connections with my peers throughout COVID. That was not the case for everybody though.

— Nick Leonard

Leonard, who is also the student body president, considers masks to be an optional matter, He said the COVID-19 virus didn’t affect many of his plans, if any at all. Leonard went on to talk about how he thinks of COVID-19 to be more of a flu like virus that may never go away. 

While his views have changed from the beginning of the pandemic, his interactions with others didn’t.

“Thankfully I was able to maintain strong connections with my peers throughout COVID. That was not the case for everybody though,” Leonard said.

Not all students share Leonard’s experience or views, however. 

“My family and I all agree that masks should be required,” Casey said. 

Casey, who believes that masks “aren’t a big hassle” to wear correctly, said she believes the mask to be more of a form of respect and a form of prioritizing others’ health before hers. She acknowledges that she is at a lower risk considering her young age and health as a whole. 

“I would understand if the mandate was lifted,” Casey said. “I just believe that it’s not the right time to do so yet. It’s hard to balance personal freedoms and enforcing public health policies.” 

The mask policy has been lifted, and now it is up to students to choose which avenue will best protect their own health.

“I think they (decision-makers) are doing what needs to be done, at this point in time, making masks optional in public locations and classrooms,” Meyer said. 

While she believes that giving people the choice is the correct thing to do, she said she will continue to wear her mask in public and on the ISU campus. 

As the past two years have demonstrated, no decision is final; it remains to be seen if we will need a mask mandate in the future. 

“Not gonna say it would never happen, ” Meyer said. “My hope is that it doesn’t.”