Posted on March 26, 2022
When the preschool and elementary students return to campus this week, they will appreciate one significant change: wearing a mask outdoors will be optional, though masks must be worn indoors. Students will be able to enjoy recess, physical education, and group work outside. I hadnʻt really experienced what this meant until the latter part of spring break when I went to see my grandson at his baseball game and enjoyed the game unencumbered by wearing a mask outdoors among other proud family members. We could see each other smiling (he had been wearing his mask at other games), and I could feel the cool tradewinds against my face. I imagined our students this week at recess or p.e. - the Mānoa breeze and warmth of the sun on their faces as they play. Even the simple act of walking outside among scattered groups of people without my mask on is a rediscovered joy.
Whenever it will be safe enough to pack up our masks and put them in storage, weʻll remember the masks as symbolic not just of a global pandemic but also of the clash between science and politics, health and safety versus the infringement of rights. These attitudes toward mask wearing have varied widely across countries around the world. (For an interesting perspective on historical and cultural practices on mask wearing, check out this article from the MIT School of Humanties, Arts, and Social Sciences : https://news.mit.edu/2020/meanings-of-masks-shass-series-0924.) Our own teachers have been concerned about the social-emotional impact of mask wearing and effects on delays in language development (not being able to see visual cues from the mouth in order to effectively learn language). To compensate, we have been more keenly attuned to social-emotional learning and using other cues such as voice inflections, more animated eye movements, and body gestures to communicate and connect with each other. I remember some teachers doing activities on reading emotions in eye expressions.
Itʻs important to remember that wearing a mask outdoors is now optional at Mid-Pacific. If a student, faculty, or staff member chooses to wear the mask outdoors, weʻll be mindful that it is OK to keep the mask on. President Turnbull has said on occasion that turning up the dimmer switch will take time, case in point with what to do with a mask that we have understood as preventing the spread of a disease. In the article referenced in my blog, M. Buyandelger, an MIT associate professor of anthropology, offers the notion that "a mask often conceals one identity to reveal new possibilities. Seen in this light, virus protection masks offer an opportunity to replace a visage of fear with a public expression of strength as a community."
What I do know having overseen the implementation of Covid-related protocols among 300 children and 50 or so faculty and staff working among the students from drop-off to afterschool care or XLP classes, something was happening to mitigate Covid transmission on campus. In epidimeological studies, the combination of mask wearing, safe distancing, and frequent handwashing seem to have a causal relationship in the decline of Covid. Now that the CDC and DHS have changed the guidelines based on the reduction of cases in hospitals and a lower rate of infections statewide, we begin slowly by removing the mask, the iconic symbol of the Covid pandemic. It is my hope that these masks have helped us to move forward out of this fog so that we can breathe in more deeply and live more confidently.
E Kūlia Kākou! Letʻs strive and aspire together!
For our children,
Edna L. Hussey, Ed.D.