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Mix and mask: Administrators, students say ‘variety of strategies’ working well with masking optional

“It seems to be going very well,” said Juneau School District Superintendent Bridget Weiss.

Close-packed groups of masked and unmasked students seemed comfortable together in hallways and on playgrounds at Juneau’s schools Wednesday, slightly over a week after the end of a lengthy period of mandatory facemasks as of last week.

“It seems to be going very well,” said Juneau School District Superintendent Bridget Weiss during the board’s regular monthly meeting Tuesday, noting she’s visited between six and eight schools the past few days. “There seems to be a variety of strategies.

“I have gotten no negative feedback,” she continued. “From all indications people are comfortable making that choice.”

The board voted last month to make masks optional after the city lowered the COVID-19 risk level to minimal. The policy is expected to continue as long as the risk level is classified as low or medium.

A majority of students observed between classes Wednesday afternoon at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé were not wearing masks, but those who were didn’t seem to be making any efforts to distance themselves from peers. Among those still wearing a mask was Brooklyn Kanouse, 14, a freshman who estimates about half of the students are still wearing them.

“I just don’t feel as comfortable,” she said when asked about her choice. “I don’t know if other people have COVID.”

Nancy Liddle, a student member of the board attending Thunder Mountain High School, said decisions about masks are still being made for events like prom, but students are generally adapting quickly to their freedom to go maskless.

“I think over time more and more students are feeling comfortable taking off their masks,” she said.

Among those favoring masks for prom is Isaac Judy, 15, a JDHS student whose mask was dangling loose from his ears shortly after eating something between periods.

“It’s probably going to be a big hotspot for COVID,” he said.

Nearby at Harborview Elementary School only two of about 10 children on a playground were seen wearing masks — one of them dangling loose beneath his chin.

The district has 32 reported cases of COVID-19 so far in April and officials are continuing to contact trace those infected, Weiss said.

One point of contention — raised during the meeting’s public comment period — is masks are still mandatory for pre-kindergarten children. Weiss said the concern is children under 5 years of age haven‘t been vaccinated and, while guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been mixed in terms of helpfulness and clarity, district officials “felt it was prudent to retain masking at that lowest level” until individual situations are reviewed.

“A challenge is that different parents will have different needs,” she said. One approach is there “could be a period of time when certain students are not masked at a certain time in a classroom” such as when giving a presentation.

Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at Mark.Sabbatini@juneauempire.com.

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