On March 11th, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that all schools and child care facilities would move from ‘required’ to ‘strongly recommended’ mask status. This announcement is effective in all settings, including extra curricular activities such as the arts and athletics. Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) responded to the announcement by officially loosening the mask restrictions.
“We were kind of pausing and waiting for guidance,” Woodbridge High Principal Christopher Krebs said.
Under the Governor’s order, schools were not allowed to be ‘less restrictive’ than State and County guidelines, but were allowed to be ‘more restrictive.’ For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District follows the Los Angeles County and California State guidelines, but is preferring to be more restrictive within their schools by requiring that masks still be kept on.
Contact-tracing switched from measuring an individual who has tested positive to a group setting, and the rules around this are void of masking and vaccination status. When contact tracing on an individual basis, students were categorized as “individual close-contact” if they had been near a student who had tested positive, for more than 15 minutes. The student then quarantined for 14 days and a proof of a negative COVID-19 test was required to return back to the classroom. Teachers were required to record every seating arrangement for this purpose. Now, schools alert groups on campus who have been in the presence of someone with COVID-19 and recommend guidance instead of having a required set of rules. However, schools still offer free PCR tests and send out emails whenever someone has tested positive.
“[The new guidelines] allow us clarity to move forward. Our goal is to return to typical events and typical planning as safely as possible. We are working with the Associated Student Body (ASB), athletics and the Visual and Performing Arts Department (VAPA) to transition everything there,” Krebs said.
Woodbridge High senior Sarah Shelly said: “I feel like my campus has changed drastically since we were told that we did not have to wear masks in the classroom. Although there are a good number of students who still choose to wear their masks, many have decided not to wear them during class. Many students feel relieved after hearing the updated, relaxed restrictions. However, I have also heard others express their frustrations relating to health and safety because of the looser restrictions. Some of my classmates have family members who are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19. They are afraid that looser restrictions will make them more likely to catch COVID-19 and spread it to their loved ones.”
Before the updated restrictions, clubs were not able to eat indoors; potlucks were banned; and students were encouraged to drink water or snack during class outside since those actions require the removal of masks. The new restrictions solve these problems as clubs are able to move back indoors. That means potlucks are back on, and there is less say-so in keeping masks on. Moreover, last year students were provided stations near entrances of classrooms where hand sanitizers and wet wipes were required to be picked up before each class period to sanitize desk spaces. Multiple boxes of masks were prevalent everywhere on campus.
“Personally, it was shocking to see everyone’s faces and smiles. For two years, I have walked around campus while only seeing the eyes of my classmates. However, after seeing my teachers and classmates’ facial expressions, it has made me realize how seeing someone’s full facial expression can change the way you read someone’s response,” Shelly said. “I feel like being able to see someone’s facial expressions such as laughter is very important in building strong connections and friendships.”
Mega-event guidelines require assemblies, such as pep rallies, to be held outdoors when student attendance exceeds 1,000. At Woodbridge High, there are approximately 2,300 actively enrolled students in the 2021-2022 school year, meaning that three time slots are organized for each assembly.
“Right now, we are really struggling having assemblies because we have a very small set of bleachers out on the field…We have to do three different assemblies and being outdoors really limits us,” Krebs said.
For the class of 2022, this updated mask mandate means that many senior activities such as prom, senior assassins, senior sunrise and graduation will return. Woodbridge High’s graduation last year had been very limited with students only allowed to bring one guest. The event was streamed online for family members who could not make it to the celebration.
“Graduation is going to return to normal. It will be one graduation ceremony with as many guests as we can have. Masks are not required and it is outdoors,” Krebs said. “With prom, we are planning for a typical prom and the reason we are planning for a typical prom is because usually the attendance at prom is under 1,000.”
Woodbridge High is the only school in the district that does not issue tickets and does not put limits on graduation. This year, the school will continue to live-stream the event for families who cannot make it and the event will be held at Irvine High.
“Graduation is a time for all of us to celebrate and we should never limit who can come. The reason we do it at Irvine High is because its got the largest stadium with the most amount of seating and standing space,” Krebs said.
For seniors like Shelly, graduation is an important part of the high school experience. Students in the class of 2022 hope that the updated restrictions will help lead Irvine schools back to normalcy.
Shelly said: “I hope we remain safe and continue to see low COVID-19 case numbers with looser restrictions. I would be disappointed if we had to cancel graduation because of a spike in cases due to looser restrictions. I hope everyone stays responsible and vigilant so we can fight this virus.”
Overall, Irvine students appear to be optimistic that the success of the updated restrictions will bring forth the return of a traditional school year and bring back other school-related events.
“I think we are in a safer spot than we have been in a long time and I think being in this spot is an exciting change for kids. We are here to help them out if they are nervous and that is about it,” Krebs said.
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