Masks now optional in Philadelphia public, archdiocesan schools

In Philly public schools there will be a one-week mask requirement after spring break to avoid a post break surge in cases.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Masks are now optional for all students and staff at Philadelphia public and archdiocesan schools, except those in PreK Head Start programs.

The change went into effect on Wednesday morning.

The announcement to make masks optional in schools was part of the city's "all clear" COVID-19 response level.

Action News spoke with parents to see how they feel about the relaxed guidelines.

"I think it's too soon. I think we should still wait for a while to take the masks off," said Timothy Morris of South Philadelphia.

But one employee we spoke to was glad the masks are off.

"It's so nice to see smiling faces here at the school and to let the students see my smiling face, so they know they're welcome here and we're going to have a great day," said Jacqueline Gethers, a classroom assistant at Samuel Gompers Elementary School.

In classrooms on Wednesday, there was a mix of students and teachers either wearing a mask or going without one.

"So far right now, I am wearing my mask only because I just don't want to deal with chaos - and I don't want to catch COVID - so I'm going to wear my mask until it's safe enough," explained student Shaleya Norman.

Parents we spoke with think it's too risky for students and staff to lower their masks.

"My daughter is here and I insist that she continues to wear a mask," said Jewell Searcy of Overbook Park.

While things haven't completely returned to normal, the School District of Philadelphia recognizes this is a step toward it.

According to officials, COVID cases in the city have remained consistently low over the last several weeks - another reason the district made the switch.

"You have some people who are ecstatic about having the opportunity to be mask-free and you have some people who want to continue to wear a mask, and we absolutely understand that," explained Monica Lewis, Deputy Chief of Communications for the School District of Philadelphia.

Making sure students and staff are safe while learning in-person full time is a top priority for the district. They acknowledge it's a personal choice if they continue to wear a mask or not. Regardless, they say people should respect their decision.

"One young lady mentioned she has a grandmother at home and she wants to keep her family safe, so I respect that," Lewis said.

Mask wearing will return for a short week filling spring break, they will temporarily be required from April 18 through April 22.

As of Wednesday morning, 34.2% of children ages 5 to 11 have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 26% of children between 5 to 11 years old are fully vaccinated, the city said.

Masking will still be required for all PreK Head Start students and staff, as required by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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