New Trier adjusts to mask-optional environment

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Noticeable downside

While the change to a mask-optional environment celebrates the community’s hard work to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, new problems emerge. 

New Trier English Teacher Daniel Kim said he now has to think about more mundane things like group work and seating arrangements. 

“If you have students in your class who still want to wear their masks you know you don’t want to alienate them,” Kim said. 

Along with classroom implications, New Trier senior Mary Huber said there has been “judgment from both sides.” 

Kim said this judgment was expected. 

“You give someone the option to do something, it’s going to say something about who they are.” Kim said. 

Kim said the timing of the decision could play into issues surrounding the lifting of the mask-mandate. 

“I wish they would have waited for the end of the year,” Kim said. “It just seems like just in the middle of the semester it’s a little awkward, and I don’t think everyone was ready for it.” 
New Trier Director of Communications Nicole Dizon said students were prepared for the change in their adviser rooms. 

“All students discussed the change in their adviser rooms (like a home room) the day before the change to mask optional, with an emphasis on respecting each other’s choices,” Dizon said. 

A student sits outside of New Trier campus

Audrey Richardson

A New Trier student sits outside of campus on March 2, 2022. This student has chosen to continue to wear a mask despite the school moving to a mask-optional environment.

Kim said he is hopeful that the issues that arise with the freshness of the decision will subside in the future. 

“Hopefully it kind of blows over and becomes another normal thing,” Kim said. 

Audio from interview with New Trier English Teacher Daniel Kim 

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<div style="font-size: 10px; color: #cccccc;line-break: anywhere;word-break: normal;overflow: hidden;white-space: nowrap;text-overflow: ellipsis; font-family: Interstate,Lucida Grande,Lucida Sans Unicode,Lucida Sans,Garuda,Verdana,Tahoma,sans-serif;font-weight: 100;"><a href="" title="Audrey Richardson" target="_blank" style="color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;">Audrey Richardson</a> · <a href="" title="New Trier english teacher Daniel Kim on mask-optional environment" target="_blank" style="color: #cccccc; text-decoration: none;">New Trier english teacher Daniel Kim on mask-optional environment</a></div>

The decision 

On Tuesday Feb. 27, the New Trier Township Board of Education voted to make masks optional on campus and on Wednesday, students were able to make the choice whether to wear masks or not.

“We can finally see people’s smiles,” said Huber. 

Dizon said, “This is one of a number of carefully thought-out steps we have taken since the pandemic began to make a safe return to a more normal school environment for our students.” 

New Trier students have a 92% fully vaccinated rate, and staff have a 96% fully vaccinated rate. With New Trier’s vaccination statistics and the COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the community decreasing, Dizon said “moving to mask optional was the next step.”

New Trier has mandated students to wear masks since Fall of 2020. Huber was excited about the announcement and didn’t hesitate to take off her mask on Wednesday. 

“I was definitely ready for this change,” said Huber. 

New normal

The decision for New Trier to move to a mask-optional environment was in line with Chicago-area procedures. 

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced on Feb. 22, 2022 that the city will remove the mask mandate for certain public spaces beginning on Feb. 28, 2022. 

Kim said the New Trier administration is “going with the trend of the community and what the community wants.”

The goal of pre-COVID-19 normalcy is one step closer with this decision. 

Huber said she is very happy with the decision and is excited for the rest of the school year. 

“It’s a huge step towards normal,” Huber said. 

New Trier will continue to offer weekly COVID-19 tests through its Shield program. 

Dizon said the New Trier administration is continuously monitoring COVID-19 metrics in the community, so they can make decisions on mitigating the impact of the pandemic. 

Dizon said they are looking at “different steps we can take to give our students the optimal environment for learning while keeping students, staff, and our community safe.” 

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