Students return from Winter Break to a two-week mask mandate

In a move that has brought harsh criticism, the Ann Arbor Public Schools has reinstated its mask mandate for the first two school weeks of 2023, from Jan. 9 to Jan. 20.

“During this time of return from travel and social activities, the requirement of masks while indoors at school is a measure to reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses and related absenteeism,” said Superintendent Jeanice K. Swift in a statement released Sunday. “We all understand the critical importance of our students and staff being present for in-school learning on every day possible.”

Swift has been subject to almost constant criticism over her handling of the Pandemic. She faced detractors and supporters last week when she announced that the district would strongly urge families, students, and staff to mask up in the weeks following the winter holidays.

However, a growing number of parent complaints and social media fervor – as well as a multitude of illnesses including COVID, RSV, and influenza making their way through the community – likely forced the district’s hand.

One social media commentator noted that Swift was seen “smiling ear-to-ear” at an awards ceremony hosted by the Ann Arbor Fire Department for senior district bureaucrat Liz Margolis just three days ago with no one wearing masks.

“Living a normal adult life while forcing masks on speech-delayed 4 year olds is the definition of cruelty,” continued the online commentator.

The fallout isn’t restricted to parents and online commentators: some teachers have been questioning the rationale behind the decision.  

Said one Pioneer teacher, who wished to remain anonymous: “I don’t know that there are other districts in the state who are doing this, the government’s not even doing it, but they’re mandating everyone wear a mask. It feels oppressive, it feels like it’s taking away a freedom people had. At this point in the game, we should be making our own decisions. In my room I have a huge space with lots of ventilation, all this does is make it harder for people to hear me. It feels oppressive.”

Jeremy Kucera, Pioneer social studies teacher, agrees. “I just think that it doesn’t really make sense. The efficacy of them is in question – they don’t really work, they don’t stop people from getting sick – it just seems like it’s something to make people feel better about the situation when they’re not that effective,” he said.

Despite comments by many on social media questioning the effectiveness of masks, healthcare officials still maintain that masks are an effective tool against COVID-19. The CDC maintains on its website that people should continue to wear masks if there is a lot of COVID in their community.

“I’ve been wearing a mask this entire time,” said Pioneer and Community junior Claire Steigelman. “It doesn’t really affect me much. It’s probably good to take the precaution. I know a lot of people were sick the first week of break so who knows if someone could bring something back.”