Massachusetts will lift its mask mandate in K-12 public schools, effective February 28, according to Jeffrey Riley, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. In the wake of the recent news, the Andover administration has decided to keep masking mandatory in all public spaces until the end of Winter Term.
With numerous factors influencing the decision, Jennifer Elliott ’94, Assistant Head of School for Residential Life and Dean of Students, explained the school’s thought process behind their decision, noting the differences between a public school and boarding school environment.
“All of our policies have been informed by local guidelines, rules, and data, but we’ve never felt bound to local data in our [own] guidelines. But we’ve always been paying attention to and looking [at local data, even though] we’re on a different timeline and schedules than public schools. We’ve been able to prioritize in person programs, academically and beyond––that’s what has been our goal all along [and] we’ve been able to keep our community safe. [We feel it’s best to] stay the course until we get to spring break,” said Elliott.
Elliott added, “We’ve actually been less worried about the classroom spaces and more concerned about our residential spaces, which are obviously distinct from any public day schools. In addition, we don’t really have a ‘bubble’ [since] we have students, faculty, and staff members who are coming in and out of [the] community all the time.”
Audrey Sun ’23 agreed upon the school’s cautious approach in masking. She emphasized the trivial effect it would have for her at this point in the term.
“There’s only two weeks until the end of the term, and honestly, it’s not [going to] make that much of a difference. I know that Covid cases are going down in Boston, [but] at school, I still think it’s safer to keep us on masks. I would say [even] my friends agree to the point where we haven’t really talked about it. We didn’t feel the need to talk about it, the fact that the school has decided has not changed anything,” said Sun.
However, some students have expressed concerns and criticisms regarding the Covid-19 policies that were enforced during the winter term. Eleanor Dehoog ’24, while agreeing with the mask mandate, felt confused with the contradictions present within the Covid-19 restrictions regarding dining and close contact.
Dehoog said, “I think it’s kind of hypocritical because I want there to be [Covid-19] protocols in place, but some of them just don’t really make sense to me. For example, we weren’t allowed to have people within each other’s dorms for a long, long time. But yet, you can sit in comments right next to someone unmasked. [But] I’m not sure what the proper way to handle that would be. I think it’s more [about] access to each other’s dorms, going downtown, off campus trips and stuff like that. That’s a bigger deal, I think they waited a little bit longer than they should have [with those restrictions].”
According to Elliott, the administrators feel that most of their goals for “normalcy” have been achieved through in-person classes, competitions, and concerts, as well as various off campus permissions. Furthermore, with restrictions on policies such as dorm visitation now changed, boarders and day students have more opportunities to interact with one another.
With winter term ending in the next two weeks, students and faculty alike look to the new policies in the spring term, ranging from masking policies to quarantines. According to Elliott, it is difficult to determine a concrete plan, with the ever changing states of the pandemic. However, she remains hopeful for the opening of spring term.
“If we can stay [on] course and numbers [of cases] continue to drop externally, and all of our kids who are here will be up to date, fully vaccinated and boosted, I’m hoping that we’ll be able to lift restrictions far sooner and actually have fewer restrictions in spring term,” said Elliott.