NEW HAVEN, Conn. — For the first time in two and a half years, which was prior to the pandemic, the New Haven Public Schools system has done away with the mask mandate. But not everyone is pleased.
This new freedom is going to take some getting used to.
"In fact, when I was walking in this morning I reached for my mask, which is usually in my back pocket, and it's hard to, I thought about putting it on," said Dr. Nicholas Perrone, Principal of Edgewood School.
And while New Haven schools are now mask-optional, "most importantly we are mask friendly, which means if any individuals for their own personal reason or family health conditions decide to wear a mask, they're welcome to," said Assistant Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Paul Whyte.
Hillhouse High School student Ayziz Bolden said they will continue to mask up "because COVID is still not gone yet."
Bolden, a junior, added, "I wanna make sure that I'm safe for my family especially my grandma because she's an older woman."
"I was happy people were being given an option," said new Hillhouse principal Mark Sweeting.
And the school system's approach dovetails nicely with a new initiative in his school.
"We started new core values here at Hillhouse under the acronym SMART: sensible, mature, articulate, respectful, team players," Sweeting said.
The biggest difference in school this year: seeing people's faces, in some cases for the first time.
"So, like when you see somebody without a mask it's like 'oh wow you look like this,'" said Destiny Cooper, a Hillhouse junior. "Like I've never seen you like this before. So, it's like the same with teachers."
Mayor Justin Elicker (D-New Haven) and his wife have empowered their oldest daughter to choose.
"And since she’s 7, we thought she was mature enough to use some discretion," said. Elicker. "We talked to her about what types of scenarios she might want to put a mask on and what type she may feel free to take her mask off during the day."
And educators say younger students' comfortable unmasking can truly benefit.
"If you can't see someone move their mouth it's much more challenging," Perrone said. "So, there will be a delay in terms of those early literacy skills."
Last month it was revealed only 17% of New Haven third graders scored at grade level in reading in a recent assessment test. Some point to remote learning and masking as contributors.
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