400+ Signatures Gathered on Petition to End Mask Mandate

Students+in+a+Directed+Studies+class+wear+their+masks+while+inside+in+the+library.+Following+Winter+Break%2C+President+Cliff+Kling+announced+a+reinstatement+of+the+mask+mandate+to+protect+the+community+from+the+Omicron+variant.+However%2C+more+than+400+students+signed+a+petition+to+end+the+mandate%2C+feeling+that+cloth+masks+are+ineffective.

Kathleen Lewis

Students in a Directed Studies class wear their masks while inside in the library. Following Winter Break, President Cliff Kling announced a reinstatement of the mask mandate to protect the community from the Omicron variant. However, more than 400 students signed a petition to end the mandate, feeling that cloth masks are ineffective.

A few days before returning from Winter Break, senior Daniel Flores John was disappointed by a school-wide email from President Cliff Kling announcing that the school would be reinstating the mask mandate, effective Jan. 3. According to Kling, the mandate’s purpose was “to protect the health and safety of our community and maintain the continuity of in-person learning.”

In response, Flores John organized a petition aiming to encourage the administration to consider returning to an optional mask policy. As of Tuesday, Jan. 11, the petition collected more than 400 student signatures, which was Flores John’s initial goal to present the petition to the administration next week.

“Our aim with this petition was to make everyone’s voices heard. We know that this is an extremely unpopular stance that the school has taken,” said Flores John. “We’re not saying that people should not wear masks, but we shouldn’t be forced, and if someone wants to wear a mask that’s completely their prerogative.”

Other students agreed on the stance of giving students the opportunity to choose.

“I don’t think there should be a mask mandate because people should have the freedom to decide whether or not they want to wear their mask,” said junior Luca DeRosa, who signed the petition.

The major reason for the reinstatement of the mask mandate, which had been removed since Nov. 15, was the wildfire-like spread of the Omicron variant. According to The New York Times, the COVID-19 daily average in Miami-Dade County increased from 1,649 to 14,275 cases between Dec. 18 and Jan. 4, the span of Winter Break.

The petition, which can be viewed here, references a study from the American Institute of Physics and an article from CNN, which evaluate the efficacy of different types of masks in preventing transmission of COVID-19, particularly the highly contagious Omicron variant. According to the article, the commonly used cloth masks are largely ineffective and those aiming to be well-protected from the virus should reach for an N-95 mask or wear two layers. However, the experts interviewed advise strongly against going “maskless” when you don’t have a medical-grade mask available.

Senior Mateo Jaime, who recently contracted COVID-19 over the break, chose not to sign the petition, believing that people should continue wearing masks to decrease the spread and protect others at higher risk.

“It’s just for others’ safety. Although I know I already have antibodies, that does not mean I can’t contract the virus without knowing,” said Jaime.  “[Wearing a mask] is being empathetic, especially for ones who have family members in a condition where [the virus] would be more harmful than in my condition.”

Regardless of whether all students are in agreement, administrators encourage students to speak out about their beliefs. The Upper School Family-Student Handbook contains no direct rules against the making of petitions or other forms of student activism. Student Government and op-eds submitted here to The Raider Voice are common vehicles students use to express their views. However, according to Dean of Students Tyrone Sandaal, in his years at Gulliver no student has yet presented him with a petition — much less a petition receiving more than 400 signatures.

“I think it’s good that the school gives us a chance to express our opinions. Students should have a say in some of the school’s decisions and I think it’s brave of [Flores John] to pitch his idea to students and administrators,” senior Ethan Melendi said.

Sandaal asserts that administrators do consider changes and new ideas brought up by students. 

“Assuming that the administration isn’t going to listen or take you seriously is a mistake, especially if it’s a student life issue,” Sandaal said.

Although student activism on campus isn’t an everyday sight at the Upper School, Sandaal gives credit to the students that fight for what they believe is right, and when they step up to make a change at school.