As mask mandate ends, so must shortsighted obsession with authority and freedom end

Two years into the pandemic, Naperville District 203 has removed its mask mandate and no longer requires close contacts for COVID-19 to quarantine. The move follows a chaotic Feb. 7 Board of Education meeting, tumultuous Feb. 9 “mask choice” protest at Naperville Central and numerous threats of legal action. It highlights a fundamental flaw in how the loudest sides of the mask debate have strayed from the common goal of providing for students’ needs. 

The mask mandate should not be a fight of authority against freedom, but that’s how District 203 administrators and parents have treated it during the last year. In most communications the district or its schools have sent justifying the mask mandate, they rely on the logic of being ordered by the governor. In most messages they have sent reminding students to mask, they say it’s because masking is a requirement. Requiring something because it’s required is shoddy, circular reasoning. They should have stood by the public health benefits of their decisions instead. 

On the other hand, many anti-mask-mandate parents and students want freedom for freedom’s sake alone. Their voices often drown out parents whose children have developmental or medical reasons that make masking seriously harmful or restrictive. There certainly could have been more flexibility for these families, but it’s because some students are unable to mask without severe harms that everyone else should sacrifice a bit of comfort to protect the most vulnerable, mandate or no mandate. 

In reality, the focus on freedom against authority and the resulting chaos is completely unnecessary. Especially at Naperville Central, staff rarely enforced the mask mandate, which was through no fault of their own. Without strong reasons to ask students to mask aside from “we told you to,” teachers quickly grew tired of the constant hassle. As a result, students already had the option to not cover their face prior to Feb. 13. 

For this reason, Central Times believes the vicious conflicts about masks in these last few weeks were unnecessary. Parents and students have the right to protest and speak their mind, but many of their demonstrations were disruptive while changing very little because of the mask mandate’s lax enforcement. The protests ultimately detracted from both sides’ original common goals of providing students the best educational experience. The immunocompromised and speech-impeded were left forgotten, even though the mask mandate affects them the most. 

Moving forward, the District 203 community has to stop the vitriol that’s been funneled into the masking debate. With the mandate lifted, we hope community members will treat each other with consideration and stop obsessing over rule enforcement or rule breaking, which are only means to an end. Instead, we must be considerate of everyone’s needs as we move into this next stage of the pandemic.