Fresh Faces Flood Campus as Pali Drops Masking Policy

Nico Troedsson, Staff Writer

After a year of mandatory masking on campus,  the new school year introduced updated COVID-19 policies. On Aug. 8, Pali Administration issued a statement on the Pali High website describing the updated mask policies for the 2022-23 academic calendar, which gives students and staff the option of not wearing their masks while on campus. This protocol is based on guidance from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) after a careful examination of COVID-19 transmission rates. 

During the 2021-22 school year, the Pali administration enforced masking on campus but removed the outdoor requirement when rates subsided during the second semester. Although California health officials lifted mask mandates on Feb. 16 due to decreasing transmission rates, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools continued to enforce restrictions because of  fears of COVID outbreaks among students and staff. While some worried about prematurely removing the mask mandate, others questioned whether campus life would ever return to “normal.” 

Once LAUSD removed its on-campus masking policy, many students looked forward to face-to-face social interactions.

President of the Future Medical Professionals club senior Julia Leviadin described her first mask-optional day on campus: “I was really excited because I wanted to see everyone’s faces.” 

At the same time, because it had been the standard on campus for so long, wearing masks had become habitual for many students like Leviadin. 

“Even though I was excited to go to school without a mask, I was honestly a little uncomfortable at first because I had gotten so used to it,” Leviadin said. “I sort of felt naked and it felt wrong, like I was going to get in trouble. I often reached into my bag for a mask, but then I realized that I didn’t have to put one on anymore.” 

For sophomore Taylor Beljon-Regen, wearing a mask had become second-nature.“It was pretty cool coming onto campus without a mask but I was worried when I got out of the car as it was instinct to put my mask on,” she said.

Going maskless involved some initial hesitation for Beljon-Regen. 

“I know a lot of people who had COVID at some point in the last two years, so it was nerve-wracking at first not to have that layer of protection,” Beljon-Regen said. “But COVID rates did go down, which was a bit comforting.” 

Administrators including Director of Academic Achievement Monica Iannessa expressed concern over whether masking hinders teaching.

“If I’m teaching a language, I want you to see my facial expressions. I want you to watch my mouth as it moves.” Iannessa said. “Masks inhibited our ability to be effective in-class teachers.”

It is worth noting that some students, including Leviadin, do not share Iannessa’s concerns.

“Learning-wise, masks didn’t affect me that much,” she said. 

Beljon-Regen agreed, saying, “I don’t think my learning was affected, beyond the fact that sometimes I couldn’t hear a teacher, but that was easily managed.”

While learning difficulties may not have been the main issue for Leviadin or Beljon-Regen, they both agree that masks hindered their ability to connect with others. 

“I felt less close to my teachers,” Leviadin said. “Not seeing people’s faces made me feel like I didn’t know them as well.” 

Although Leviadin is enjoying the return to normalcy, she supports students who prefer to continue wearing a mask. 

“I think it was really important to give students the choice,” Leviadin explained. “I like that it is optional so if a student lives with their grandparents or someone that is immunocompromised, they could wear one if that makes them feel more comfortable. There are still some people who wear a mask and that’s their choice.”

Sophomore Sienna Monnier said she believes that stricter conditions need to be met before she feels safe enough to remove her mask.

“More people need to get vaccinated and current COVID numbers are too high right now, so those would need to go down, and variants need to become less contagious before I feel comfortable without a mask,” Monnier said. 

According to information on the LACDPH website, currently 73 percent of the county’s residents are fully vaccinated. But like Monnier, Iannessa said that she would also like to see more people vaccinated before she commits to going without a mask. 

“I’ve been masking pretty rigorously,” Iannessa said. “There is a part of me that really wants to protect students and teachers, and I would love to make a rule that says when we’re all in a packed gym with no ventilation, we should mask. But that’s not really where we’re at. We basically are following the same procedures as LAUSD.”

Iannessa said she also believes that it would be a mistake to get rid of the mask completely. 

“I would hate for people to be in the mindset that masking is over because I don’t believe that that is true,” Iannessa said. “Masking is not ‘over.’ I still carry masks with me and I think other people should, too.”

In the meantime, supporters of the new protocol continue to enjoy mask-free learning and activities.