Last month, many school districts across the nation and in our own Washington state made the decision to make wearing masks optional. For many, this was a refreshing, exciting step toward life as we once knew it. For others, it was a scary or frustrating sign that school leaders cared less about science and more about politics.
Your feelings are valid: The range of emotions are all a valid culmination of the past two years, which have left a lot of us in a state of disillusionment. The pandemic is still very much in an ongoing state, yet in so many capacities it doesn’t always feel like it. How are you to respond to life when there’s a different reality depending on where you are, who you talk to or even what day it is?
This is especially poignant for students in K-12 education. There is something to be said about the unique position we are in when it comes to agency within a pandemic. Depending on the age, there are so many factors that race through a student’s mind when they walk through their classroom door and actively make the choice whether or not to wear a mask.
For some, it may be easier than for others; that can look like following the guidance of the adult figures in their life, such as parents. It can also be a conflicting time when they may be receiving one message from home but also be lured into doing the opposite through influence of their peers.
Wearing a mask has become a very symbolic task for many in a variety of ways. The issue at hand is not necessarily the position a lot of students have been put in; it is that districts have flagrantly made the decision without much, if any, community engagement, let alone leadership. They didn’t take the time to listen to the needs of community stakeholders. They did not take into account all of the implications that come with moving as though the pandemic is over without our input. Above all, we are moving past this pandemic that, in the beginning, made us all say “this is a time for change and social reckoning” with just as little change or reckoning as when we started.
The status quo of hierarchical decision-making with little to no say so from those being directly affected by said policies is what we should have been moving away from at this point in the pandemic. No matter what the consensus would have been on mask wearing, there should have been — and needs to be — a more involved and distributed process that allows for stakeholders’ input to be heard and adequately enacted.
Alexis Mburu is a high school junior in Tukwila. She is involved in racial equity advocacy and community engagement organizations such as the WA NAACP Youth Council.
Read more of the Apr. 27-May 3, 2022 issue.