© 2023
Local NPR for the Cape, Coast & Islands 90.1 91.1 94.3
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

An exciting, but strange, first day back at school without masks

Liz Lerner
Children play at Mullen-Hall Elementary School in Falmouth on Monday, the first day masks became optional in the district.

Students returned to school from winter break Monday with masks optional in most districts for the first time in nearly two years.

The change was met with excitement and a little apprehension. Teachers had to decide if they would continue wearing a mask during instruction. Some younger children went to school without a mask for the first time ever, while others felt like they and their peers had changed a lot since they last saw each other in-person without a face covering.

Barnstable Senior and Youth Commission Chairperson Lucas McCauley said he's keeping his mask with him, at least for the time being.

"I’m personally not wearing it in the classroom, but in the hallways I’m wearing it because it can get pretty crowded," he said. "It’s a very personal choice, and it’s going well, I would say."

Barnstable High School English teacher Keith Caldwell was even more cautious. He said he'll keep his mask on throughout the school day for the at least the next two weeks.

"You’re in the classroom and you’ve got 20 students and they’re all facing you, and you don’t know who's vaccinated and who's not,” Caldwell said.

There have been spikes in COVID-19 cases across the U.S. after other school vacations and major holidays where people gather in groups and travel.

"Even if you go into a restaurant, there aren’t that many people, they aren’t all facing you, and you’re only in a store or restaurant for a certain amount of time. Here, you’re talking seven hours with a whole bunch of people unmasked,” he said. "There's no other setting like this."

Caldwell did say it was nice not having to constantly remind students to put their masks back on throughout the school day.

In Mashpee, there wasn't a mask in sight at the Middle-High School when the school day ended just before 3 o’clock, and students streamed through the doors to a line of parents and grandparents parked in front of the school.

Freshman Gabby Silva said many of her classmates had been looking forward to going mask-free at school.

"I was just like, 'this is going to be great,'" she said.

But, after all that time spent in masks or in remote classes, she said her friends kept commenting about how strange it felt to not need to wear a face covering.

"It was just weird the whole day, to be honest," she said. "I forgot what people looked like."

Silva's mother, Tatiane da Silva, said the kids have changed a lot since the pandemic started.

"It's been two years, and they did grow up," she said. "And I think it's awesome that they get to see what they look like now versus two years ago. It's cool."

da Silva said she was also happy the school committee lifted the mask mandate.

"I think it should be optional," she said. "There are certain families that I know are more at risk because they have somebody older in a house, but we don't."

Barnstable English teacher Keith Caldwell said he’s optimistic his district's school committee would reinstate a mask requirement if there’s a spike in COVID-19 cases again in the future.

Some schools on the South Coast, Islands and Outer Cape will wait until later this month to drop district-wide mask mandates.

Local districts are also starting to eliminate mask requirements on school buses after the CDC changed its guidelines Friday.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.
Sam Houghton left CAI in February, 2023, to become News Editor at the Martha's Vineyard Times.
He worked at CAI since the summer of 2017. Before that, he worked at the Falmouth Enterprise, where he covered local politics.
Patrick Flanary is a dad, journalist, and host of Morning Edition.