Mask Up or Go Home


Students must wear masks properly to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Staff illustration: Sutton Inouye.

Erica Fenyo, Assistant Sports Editor

Every time I walk into a Menlo classroom, I see black and blue surgical masks sitting just beneath students’ noses. But the issue of mask-wearing, or rather its absence, goes much deeper than a piece of cloth. Instead, the refusal to wear a mask to protect this community represents an underlying issue of entitlement and selfishness within Menlo’s culture.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 66.4% of Americans ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated, meaning they are at least two weeks out from receiving the second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. In San Mateo County, that percentage is significantly higher. According to the San Mateo County Health website, 90.0% of the county population ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated, and, according to an email from Head of School Than Healy, over 93% of eligible Menlo students are vaccinated.

However, this high percentage does not necessarily correlate to respect for mask mandates. Part of the resistance to masks stems from the contradictory recommendations from the CDC over the summer. In May, the CDC announced that fully-vaccinated individuals no longer needed to wear masks in most public settings such as grocery stores and movie theaters. However, government buildings still required masks, and private businesses could choose to enforce their own requirements. Then in July, the CDC urged people to re-mask, including in schools.

Following this recommendation and the San Mateo County guidelines, Menlo began the 2021-22 school year with an indoor mask requirement, a requirement that is still in place. While some students wear N95s or double up with two masks, others struggle to keep their masks on indoors. Instead, students wear them underneath their noses, as a chinstrap or in their pocket. The lack of respect for a relatively simple requirement shows that some Menlo students have little consideration for the health and safety of their peers. 

Mathematics and learning resources teacher John Norris believes that some students only wear masks when teachers are looking at them. “I think [some students] pull up their mask while they’re being monitored, and then it seems like as soon as they’re not being watched anymore, they [stop wearing it]. They’re either lazy with it or just not wanting to wear [their mask],” Norris said. “For example, there was a student that I know during the earthquake drill, and I asked him while we were outside to put on a mask, and he did it for two seconds. […] I literally turned around and peeked over my shoulder and [his mask was off again].”

The lack of respect that some students show towards staff and classmates when told to pull up their masks exacerbates tensions from the drawn-out pandemic which could lead to more arguments. We all want to return to a mask-free world, but it is all of our responsibility to protect each other.

Upper School History Department Chair Carmen Borbón shares Norris’s concerns about some students ignoring the mask requirement at Menlo. “I feel like the vast majority of students are doing what they are supposed to do, and we just have a few serial offenders who don’t wear their masks correctly,” Borbón said.

In my experience, it is also a select few students, mainly upperclassmen boys, who repeatedly ignore their teachers’ and peers’ pleas for them to respect the rules. Borbón and Norris conceded that they noticed the trend among upperclassmen boys as well. 

Although Upper School Assistant Director Maren Jinnett informed Borbón and other teachers that they could send non-compliant students to her office, Borbón is skeptical if that is an effective solution. “My concern with that is I actually have to trust that they’re actually going to [go to her office] because I feel like they’ll just hang out on the quad with their friends,” Borbón said. “So I just keep them in class and keep bothering them to pull their mask up.”

Menlo needs to proactively enforce the mask requirement and empower teachers to send non-compliant students out of class or provide alternative solutions. For instance, a solution could be a form that teachers can fill out weekly with a list of students that don’t adhere to the mask requirement which the administration can follow up on. Otherwise, students will continue to wear their masks improperly with no consequences.