As of March 12, 2022, the students and faculty in the Hart District have been given the green light on making masking optional – allowing them to see each other’s smiling faces for the first time in about two years. 

Since then, the students and staff now have the choice to wear their masks when inside any campus buildings or during instruction time. 

With this new adjustment, however, some have wondered exactly how it’s going and what measures are still being taken. 

Per Dave Caldwell, the public information officer for the Hart District, there have been no upticks in cases since losing the masks weeks ago. 

“For the most part, the cases involving staff and students in the district have been consistent with community trends,” said Caldwell. 

As far as safety precautions, there is no daily check-in anymore either – which was a process where each student had to clear themselves using a website link daily before coming to campus. 

However, students and staff still seem to be feeling safe for the most part and are happy with the decision. 

“I might always feel a degree of concern; I don’t want my students to get sick. But I think we are at a place where there are resources available to monitor and manage the spread of COVID and safeguard the majority of the public,” says Shauna Koskie, 11th grade English teacher at West Ranch High School. 

Koskie smiled ear-to-ear with her maskless students after the mandate was lifted. March 15, 2022 / Photo courtesy of Shauna Koskie. 

Since students and staff returned to campus in the Spring of 2021, masking was strictly enforced – sometimes posing difficulties in the classroom. 

Students had stated that it got hard to focus near the end of the day with the mask on, and teachers had noticed a slew of issues. 

“So much of what we do in the classroom relies heavily on visual cues such as reading lips and evaluating facial expressions. As a teacher, I saw a sea of eyes staring back at me and without the complete image of their entire face, I wasn’t always sure students were tracking me,” says Koskie. 

For some students like Kaitlyn Saxton, a senior at West Ranch in the specialty elective West Ranch Television, the option of ditching the mask has made certain tasks a lot easier in the classroom in the past month. 

“When we were on-air in [West Ranch Television,] you had to pronounce everything perfectly in order for people to understand you as a mask was covering your face. Now, it’s so much easier to digest what we are saying – we aren’t muffled, and you can see our expressions, which is a big part in anchoring a news show,” Saxton stated.  

Saxton (right) anchoring the morning news show with a mask on 031122. Photo courtesy of Saxton. 

With the lack of masks in classrooms now, Koskie and Saxton say that they are able to learn in a better environment. 

“I do feel there has been an increase in comprehension. It was clear that, even when we returned to the classroom [from online learning,] there was still this barrier that prohibited natural social interaction, which is key to teaching and learning,” said Koskie. 

Saxton says that it’s just a lot nicer to be able to see teacher and student’s facial expressions again and brings a sense of normalcy back to the learning environment. 

After two years of hiding expression and learning to cope with the downsides of masking up, faculty like Koskie are sitting back and looking at the positives now. 

“Things are finally starting to feel a little more normal, which eases some of the angst I’ve felt the past couple of years,” Koskie said. 

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