Schools dropping mask requirements garner mixed reviews from students

On the very first day that Robbinsdale Area Schools no longer required their students to mask up, many of them still did.

"I wore mine all day," one high school student told FOX 9. "It’s just super weird! It’s weird to take it now being so used to wearing them all the time."

Students outside Armstrong High School estimated that 80 percent or more still had their masks on, at least for parts of the day. They described it as a mix of comfort and caution, feeling odd to not wear it and feeling hesitant to let down their guard after emerging from a drastic surge of COVID-19 cases.

"I don’t know," said another student. "Just more comfortable with it maybe? It’s been a long time since I haven’t worn one."

As the transition to going "maskless" might take a few days or weeks, it’s in stark contrast to the speed at which districts are dropping these long-standing requirements. Some districts stopped masking already in mid-February, but many more joined them last week and this week. St. Paul schools are likely to drop them next week, as is Richfield.

Last Friday, the CDC updated their guidance due to rapidly dropping case numbers. That’s all it took for Robbinsdale, among several others, to quickly come to a decision that they knew wouldn’t be far off.

"It’s just been remarkable as we’ve been watching our data drop over the course of the month of February," said David Engstrom, Robbinsdale superintendent. "Almost like a cliff the way it’s dropped off."

For many schools, the past two months have been tough. Robbinsdale, for example, went to full distance-learning for the last two weeks of January. Like many districts, they faced a lack of teachers and support staff, especially bus drivers, as the omicron variant spread rapidly.

As quickly as omicron took hold, it’s also going away. And dropping masks in school feels, to many, like the strongest sign yet that the pandemic is largely behind us.

"There has been kind of a sense of relief from this," said Engstrom. "This feels a little bit more normal. And yet we’re all cautious."

Some of his students agree. COVID-19 felt like it was waning last year. And then the predicted fall wave hit, and the variant took hold with the new year. There is hope, but it remains guarded.

Another student said he was careful not to get too excited about finally taking the mask off.

"It is nice, but… We’ll just see what happens if the COVID numbers go back up or not."