The Student News Site of Menlo School

The Coat of Arms

The Student News Site of Menlo School

The Coat of Arms

The Student News Site of Menlo School

The Coat of Arms

Admin Drops COVID Vaccine Mandate, Mask Use Declines

Staff photo: Sonia Dholakia
Then-sophomore Sienna Swanson gets a COVID-19 vaccine during Menlo’s vaccine clinic in the Spieker Center on Nov. 11, 2022.

Menlo students and faculty are no longer required to get the COVID-19 vaccine as of the beginning of this school year, removing a mandate that had been enforced in some form since October 2021, according to School Nurse Joan Barada. 

Throughout the pandemic, Barada said, Menlo policy has drawn from the San Mateo County Department of Health guidelines. So when state law forced SMC Health to drop its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students, Menlo followed suit.

Amidst this policy shift, mask-wearing has become rare at Menlo’s upper school. Many wearing a mask do so temporarily as they recover from sickness, either voluntarily or at the behest of the nurse’s office. Only a handful of teachers still put on masks daily, and regular mask wearers cannot be found among the student body. 

Art teacher Nina Ollikainen cites her vulnerability to COVID-19 and proximity to many students as primary reasons for masking up. “We work together really closely in the art room,” she said. “I’m within inches of everyone coughing and things like that, and we don’t have an active ventilation system.” Ollikainen said she has never contracted COVID-19 despite the uptick in cases Barada recorded in September. 

Moviemaking and yearbook teacher Christina Ri is new to the Menlo community and was alarmed by the uptick in faculty cases in September, which has contributed to her continued mask-wearing even months later. Ri said that she is often around vulnerable family members, but she also cites her responsibility to her colleagues and students for her masking. “Simply putting a mask on will help me support other [faculty] and still be there for my students,” Ri said. “We saw how important teachers are during the pandemic: if they’re not protecting themselves, it impacts the community.”

“Protecting themselves means sometimes wearing a mask and can also mean vaccination, depending on the person’s comfort level and health status or background,” Ri added.

While there aren’t students that routinely wear masks in the upper school, some, such as junior Jake Kaplan, kept up daily masking through the end of the 2022-2023 school year. Kaplan said that the continuing threat of both contracting and spreading COVID-19 and other airborne illnesses drove his masking habits, though other factors reinforced his decision to keep masking. “The air anywhere isn’t the healthiest to breathe, so it’s just more healthy to wear a mask,” Kaplan said. 

Kaplan added that he keeps masks in his car just in case. For a few days in September, he said, the smokey air prompted him to wear a mask at school again, and he may remask if COVID-19 cases go up once more. For now, though, he keeps it off. “It just feels more comfortable [without it],” Kaplan said.

Barada also does not wear a mask regularly; like Kaplan, she finds masks uncomfortable. She added that new mask mandates were unlikely, but if SMC Health recommended them again, the school’s senior administrators would “probably” recommend masking requirements again.

Barada also stressed that precautions should still be taken to prevent the spread of all diseases. “When anyone has a communicable disease — not just COVID — and they are feeling unwell, they need to stay home,” she said. 

“If you’re excessively blowing your nose, excessively coughing, you’re disrupting people in the classroom that are there to learn,” Barada added. “You should be at home and resting and getting better.”

When asked if and when COVID-19 restrictions would soften to mirror rules around other illnesses, Barada began talking about a new variant of concern before changing tack. “I have no idea,” she said. “I’m tired of COVID; aren’t you tired of it?”

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About the Contributors
Geoffrey Franc
Geoffrey Franc, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Number of years in The Coat of Arms: 3

Favorite aspect of journalism: Telling people's stories and learning about the world through them.

Interests outside of school: history, running, and Mock Trial

Class of 2025

Alyssa McAdams
Alyssa McAdams, Print Editor

Number of years in The Coat of Arms: 2

Favorite aspect of journalism: Layout days, because we get to listen to music and eat snacks and talk while we work together on print

Interests outside of school: Soccer, flag football, piano, and spending time with my dog

Class of 2025

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