Two Years of Covid, One Month Mask-Optional: Berkeley Carroll’s COVID Decision-Making Process and Policies


On March 1st, 2022, Berkeley Carroll announced that the school will go mask-optional on March 28th. The school followed through, and March 28th marked (for some) the first maskless foray into 181 Lincoln Pl. in over two years. This decision followed Governor Kathy Hochul order to drop the statewide mandate on March 2nd, and Mayor Eric Adams’ decision to drop the citywide mandate on March 7th. As the school implements a mask-optional policy, all community members will be required to submit a negative rapid test every week. 

After almost two years of COVID, what factors go into the school’s decisions about Berkeley Carroll’s COVID policy and response?

Ultimately, Berkeley Carroll, and other independent schools, can only make decisions about COVID requirements in accordance with state and city policy. A few months ago, Poly Prep announced that they would forgo mandatory masking on February 21st, despite the statewide mask mandate for schools. Shortly after the story broke, the state intervened, insisting that the school reverse its mask-optional announcement until it aligned with state and city regulations. 

However, now that the state and city have granted approval for going mask-optional in schools, institutions can make decisions that are right for their community’s needs. Berkeley Carroll will join Poly Prep, Avenues, Packer, Grace Church, Trinity and other independent schools in going mask-optional.

At Berkeley Carroll, decisions about school-wide policy are made by the COVID Task Force, a group composed of the Health Team, the division directors, and a number of other administrators and faculty members. The Task Force meets bi-weekly to review and update the school’s COVID response. 

Ms. Moore compared the school’s approach to a “dimmer switch”: “As opposed to a light switch where it’s like on or off, with a dimmer switch, you can easily move it up or down.” 

The “dimmer switch” approach allows the school to remain nimble. “Things can change really quickly… and we need to be able to make adjustments,” Ms. Moore said. Students may recall the staggered cafeteria schedule, enhanced masking requirements, and a faculty booster requirement at the beginning of the second semester, which were all examples of COVID policy operating as a “dimmer switch”—small protocol changes, adopted quickly, in response to a rapidly evolving COVID situation. The “dimmer switch” methodology allows BC to pull back or increase restrictions seamlessly, minimizing disruption to the community. 

The COVID Task Force considers the number of cases in New York City, the percent of positive cases, and guidelines from New York State and the CDC to guide their decision-making process. While the Task Force is composed of members from all three divisions, protocols are not necessarily consistent across the entire school. For example, since September, Upper School students have had the option to unmask outdoors, while Middle School students were required to leave them on until three weeks ago.. 

The Task Force considers a number of factors, including new data on mask efficacy: “Now with the higher quality masks, there is data that your mask protects you,” Ms. Moore said. While masks are more effective when a critical mass wears them, she explained that this information could “lead to the possibility of a situation where an individual can choose to wear a mask, and that will be fairly protective [for them].” 

Before the change was implemented, Upper School students leaned positive. Henry H. ‘23 said that it was a “great change”. Maxine ‘23 was also excited and thought the change made sense since we were already unmasked in the cafeteria. Gia F. ‘23 was reassured that the health team felt it was safe to go maskless. Nick E., James Z., and Ani F. ‘23 all felt happy about the change.

A few students raised concerns. Rahul R. ‘23 said he felt irritated about the announcement because he felt it would backfire: “I feel the school is overconfident because people may contract COVID over break and then spread it maskless at BC.” He added that “if the school actually checked if people were taking rapid tests, instead of using an honor system, that would make me feel a little better.” 

Now that the school has been mask optional for four weeks, students feel mixed.

Kaya C. ‘25 said that it was at first “really jarring” to drop the mandate, but now she feels “a lot more at ease and more comfortable.” Caroline R. ‘24 feels “ecstatic”, and Graham M. ‘23 doesn’t “really mind whether people wear masks or not.” However, several students offering their opinions anonymously voiced concerns, noting the spread of normal illnesses seemed heightened, and that students often forget (or purposely don’t) wear masks in large group gathering settings. One student, a sophomore, added: “I don’t think that people are responsible enough to go maskless,” and that masks should be re-mandated in hallways. “People are coughing.”

Because the science remains divided, how to best follow it is unclear, and furthermore, BC’s decision making will presumably be affected by other things. As Dana Goldstein writes for The New York Times on mask conflicts in liberal parts of the country: “The debate will involve science, but also politics, race, and class, as well as a swell of emotions.” While decisions around optional in-school masking are informed by expert opinion, the administration must also make decisions that allow members of the Berkeley Carroll community to feel comfortable and welcome while at school.