Some students remain apprehensive as schools let go of COVID mandates

Many+students+enjoy+going+mask-free+this+academic+year+while+others+continue+to+mask+express+anxiety+about+their+and+their+families+health.+

Photo by Sandy Moncayo Cuji

Many students enjoy going mask-free this academic year while others continue to mask express anxiety about their and their families’ health.

The 2022-23 school year has officially begun and students are starting to make their way back into school — both literally and figuratively. Along with the return of students and staff, we also welcome the first full school year of no mask mandate since the 2018-19 school year. As of April, Columbia Heights Public Schools lifted their mandates on masks and social distancing. Although many students and staff are relieved to be mask-free, there has been an arguably quieter population facing the rising fear of returning this school year. 

After spending the majority of the 2020-21 school year online and the recent 2021-22 school year in person for the first time during the pandemic (minus a few weeks of distance learning at the start of 2022 due to the Omicron surge), some students and staff seem to have approached this new school year with caution and panic as this would be their first full year of school without any extreme COVID-19 protocols — so far, anyway. Unlike last school year, students no longer have to follow safety measures or precautions like social distancing or more of an emphasis on sanitizing within school walls. The main concern for some students, teachers and staff alike, including this Heights Herald staff writer, is that now that measures are being put down, students could very easily then start to neglect appropriate sanitation and even basic hygiene. 

“Coming back to school has been difficult,” Mariam Mohamed (10) said.  “It is our first time [returning to school] without our masks and seeing what everybody looks like. Now that we [aren’t required to wear] masks, people think that COVID is over, when it is still a thing.”

Some students feel that the school environment could never return back to normal, after having to deal with the COVID pandemic for just under three years. Fear is still a factor while in school, be it the lack of protocols or the fear of returning to normal. Students are still adjusting to the shift from quarantine and distance learning to being back in the classroom and in-person learning. Just like adjusting to the safety protocols, they too need time to get used to returning back to the norm. 

 “This year we are expected to get more involved with group activities inside and outside the classrooms, it makes going to school tiring,” Jaely Quizhpi (10) said.

“School is more enjoyable now that masks aren’t required, but having to do group work still makes me feel anxious,” Amari Jordan (10) said.

 While some students are taking longer to readjust to extracurricular and school activities in person, others are more amenable. 

“Everything has changed since COVID, but now that we can go back to school normally, don’t mind that much anymore,” Bahja Ahmed (10) said.

Regardless of where someone is on their journey “back to normal,” it’s clear that the lifestyles of students both at CHHS and elsewhere have changed permanently. While some students feel the pressure to socialize again in the school environment, others feel as if not much has changed—as if we all just lost a few years and the pandemic was a blip on the radar. 

“School has always been hard, but after being free from safety mandates, I feel more comfortable being around friends,” Lindsy Cigarrero (10) said. 

At Columbia Heights, we cannot erase the fear but ease it to the best of our ability. Students deserve to feel like they belong in a safe environment, and as students and staff we will do our best to ensure that everyone is able to come to school and learn and work together.