Unmasking the Challenges of Mask Protocols at School


Ale Lewis '23, Editor-in-Chief

These months of COVID have produced mixed signals on what is necessary for safety versus what seems like overkill.  These are tough issues.  The CDC has been back and forth, different states have varying laws, and even parents seem frustrated.  One microcosm of confusion is St. Luke’s.  We can trace the evolution of the school’s mask policies from loose enforcement to radical enforcement and, ultimately, to a workable balance.  The Goldilocks approach has been a roller coaster ride for students.  

Last month, every student’s worst nightmare entered my inbox.  I had received a bad APR from the Dean of Students.  Titled Mask Infraction, the email stated that I had “failed to follow proper mask or social distancing protocols” and “earned a Conversation with the Dean of Students.”  

At the end of the 2020-21 school year, the St. Luke’s teaching staff was fully vaccinated, and COVID-19 cases were at a low in Connecticut.  The pleasant spring weather and a new feeling of safety elevated spirits and created a loose environment where rules around masks were not strictly enforced by many teachers.  Warnings, rather than infractions, became the norm.  While well-intended, this casual approach meant that students could receive many warnings from multiple teachers during the day without receiving an infraction.

This September, mirroring the previous spring, some students continued to disregard and neglect the mask mandate. The leniency with masks legitimized the students who wore their masks below their noses or not at all and influenced more students to follow suit.  It also increased tensions within the student body by making the mask wearers feel they had to be responsible for everyone’s health while other students ignored the safety measures. 

On October 18, announcements concerning new protocols took us all by surprise.  In advisory, I was told that teachers were going to enforce mask mandates in a strict manner.  From that point on, masks had to be worn everywhere in the school unless a student was in the act of eating or drinking.  No exceptions.  

As an avid mask wearer and supporter, I championed the new rules…for an hour.  During lunch, I had just finished eating a salad in the Dining Commons two minutes prior when a teacher I had never spoken to before got within inches of my ear and declared, “That’s a mask infraction,” and marched away, leaving me to soak in my shame. It took me a moment before I realized that I wasn’t wearing my mask.  I had forgotten to put my mask back on directly after eating.  

For the rest of the day, the infraction bothered me.  I did not want anyone to think that I did not respect masks because, of course, I understood the value of wearing them.  I clearly had made a mistake, and I felt awful about it.  Initially, enforcing masks was to keep everyone safe.  Now it felt punitive. 

Many of my friends had similar, if not exactly the same, stories to mine. Students who respected mask mandates were suddenly receiving mask infractions and meeting with deans.  While I agree that St. Luke’s students should take the COVID measure seriously, instilling fear in students is not the way to go about it.

Two months ago, I was upset about my mask infraction and the enforcement of strict protocols.  Looking back from a new perspective, I understand that the administration did what they thought was best for the students, faculty, and school.  More than that, the administration listened to feedback about the mask protocols and responded positively.  

St. Luke’s was transparent in their discussions of mask infraction enforcement, inviting all students to participate.  The administration even encouraged a student-led meeting during lunch to discuss concerns around mask protocols.  In light of the feedback, St. Luke’s adjusted the reporting and discipline system.  

As of November 29th, students can see the details of the infraction and can expect that a teacher will have a conversation with them as part of addressing their behavior.  Having experienced the abruptness of punishment with no explanation, I admire the new approach.  More than that, students with multiple mask infractions will not miss a day of school but instead will be assigned a block of Community Restoration.  

St. Luke’s adjusted their protocols to support student voices while keeping everyone safe.  Hopefully, this New Year will bring more stability and fewer surprises.