Taking The Mask Off Of A Bigger Problem

Elizabeth Newcomb, Features Editor

Every year when October 31st begins to appear on the horizon, several people find themselves wondering what they’re going to be for Halloween. There are a variety of identities to choose from and every year the goal is to outdo yourself from last year. As you probably know, costumes are portrayed as the highlight of this holiday, besides the candy of course. Annually, there are various contests on who can become the scariest or change the most from who they are daily. This national holiday has been celebrated for years and is considered to be well known to most Americans, yet there is much most people don’t know. Questions that I’ve personally been known to hear or ask range from “since when were costumes a thing” or more frequently “why can’t we wear masks on Halloween at school?”

When I first truly thought about the policy against masks at school on Halloween, I didn’t know why. I thought up a range of different answers as to why such as the fact that they could be a distraction or too scary for some people to handle. Not once did I ever consider that there was a deeper meaning to it and I am almost positive that few of my classmates never considered it also. The reason behind this uneasiness is the possibility of an act of violence and the perpetrator being unidentifiable.

Often times when trick or treating in life, we get candy we don’t want such as terrible black licorice and, unfortunately, that same concept applies here. Halloween at school used to be a time of celebration and dressing up, but because of other’s poor decisions, it can’t be the same anymore.

According to an article about the origin of Halloween written on History.com, it was claimed that masks have been around for thousands of years. The tradition began around the eighth century and dates back to the Celtic festival of Samhain. When celebrated the idea of scaring off evil spirits was the objective hence the spooky ensemble. Since this festival, this custom became well known and still appreciated today.

Grant Community High School English Teacher, Mrs. Balanag, claims that she remembers a time not too long ago when Halloween costumes were encouraged and celebrated within schools nationwide. She recalls how when she was a child within the 80’s that her teachers would give prizes or candy for best-dressed students and the ones who were almost unrecognizable. This promoted the tradition of picking out costumes and finding ones that were intentionally unidentifiable. Mrs. Balanag claims that this never seemed to be a problem until “nefarious things” began happening in the world such as the Columbine tragedy. Since then, the urgency for safety in school has definitely increased. The Washington Post claims that more than 215,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since the Columbine catastrophe. That number of students translates to 217 schools. Clearly, this is a huge dilemma and at Grant, it was known that changes had to be made and made quickly.

When I interviewed Dean Blanke and Dean Kennedy, they expressed the reasons for the rules comes from a concern for students’ health and safety. Dean Blanke specifically stated that the reason that students are no longer allowed to wear masks is that of a sincere concern for the student body. He said, “It is pretty straightforward. [Wearing masks] is a safety concern. We need to be able to identify every student in the building.” The fear behind this policy is that if a disaster were to happen at school, then suspect would not be identifiable. Dean Kennedy brought up the clown mask shooting incidents from 2016. This opened his eyes and made an impact on the way we do things at Grant. To remind the Grant Community of the importance of following this rule to stay safe, the Deans’ Office sends an email reminder each Halloween week requesting that no one violates this code.

Each and every day, students have plenty on their plates such as maintaining outstanding grades, developing a social life, and focusing on their mental health. The last thing that needs to be on their minds should be their safety at school. No student should ever have to question if he/she is going to come home to their families or if he/she is going to be alright while at a place that is supposed to be sheltered and protected.

A simple philosophy to follow is to treat others the way you would like to be treated. Imagine if everyone did this, then possibly violence wouldn’t be as big of an issue. Awareness of others, lifting each other up, and noticing our peers who seem to wear masks everyday are all things we can accomplish daily to maintain long term safety and build better relationships.

Thankfully, we haven’t had to deal with this serious of school violence at Grant. We have built a truly caring community that does their best to work together as a team. As previously mentioned this world is filled with nefarious things. Every day we are all constantly faced with the choice to be good or be bad. Every day we have the chance to prove who we are and what we want to accomplish. And yet every day at Grant, we choose to be a team. Regardless of opinion for the mask policy, one thing remains constant.

When all of us come together and follow the rules, we provide each other with a safe, secure environment where all students can learn. As an individual you can choose to make our school a better place, developing the person behind the mask is all up to us.