With mask mandates ending throughout the U.S., Hawaii Baptist Academy made masking optional at school starting April 11.

Prior to that outdoor masking was already made optional a week after Spring Break. Along with optional masking at school, temperature scanning, as well as mandatory quarantining, was lifted on April 11. However, with all of these changes to HBA’s COVID policies, the school still urges students to be safe and healthy.

Many students were excited for the changes. Junior Caleb Nishimura said, “I find the discontinuation of temp scanners and optional mask-wearing very convenient. I found the temperature scanners to be an obstacle in the morning.“ Junior Kaiya Tom sees the latest changes as a big step towards normalcy. “I feel like the changes are a good thing because it shows that the school is slowly easing into what the rest of the world is doing,” she said.

While students seemed glad for the easing of restrictions, Monday, April 11, didn’t see a large majority of students not wearing masks. Tom explained her decision to keep her mask on at school. “For now I plan on keeping my mask indoors. I’m still in softball season right now and would hate to jeopardize my season by getting sick because it’s something I could’ve prevented. Maybe if the numbers decrease by the end of the season I might consider it,” she said. She added, “It’s definitely good to see people’s faces again.” Like Tom, Nishimura is cautious about the change and has grown accustomed to having his face mostly hidden behind a mask. “I will continue to wear my mask because although it isn’t mandatory, I still want to protect my family, friends, and teachers,” he explained. Nishimura likes that masks hide his facial expressions when he is laughing with his friends in class.

English teacher Dawson Vordergruegge, on the other hand, feels like ambivalent about the changes. “I’m very grateful not to wear a mask anymore. I’m glad that we can put COVID in the past and get back to the good work of educating students well,” she said. Although Vorderbrugge contracted COVID-19 back in late January, he says he will teach without wearing his mask because he is not afraid of getting it again.

High school principal Elton Kinoshita is cautiously optimistic about the easing of COVID-related safety restrictions. He said, “I am fairly confident that the new changes we have implemented will remain in place for the remainder of the school year. Beyond that, I am not comfortable with predicting what our policies will be at the beginning of next school year.” He later added, “Unless a new COVID variant emerges, I am hopeful that the COVID virus will eventually become a part of our lives much the way that the flu bug or the common cold is part of our reality.

With some people on edge about unmasking, Kinoshita points out that HBA wants to be safe place that provides a better learning experience for its students. “No COVID mitigation effort will be 100% effective. While safety is a priority, the quality of the learning experience we provide to our students must also be considered… we base our decisions on providing the safest campus environment while still allowing students to enjoy a classroom setting that is inviting yet safe, and co-curricular activities that complement and enrich their academic learning,” he said.

With the recent increase in COVID cases in Hawaii, Kinoshita hopes that the ongoing pandemic doesn’t cause a loss in a sense of community at HBA. “We all need to be mindful that the Latin root of the word “society,” the noun “socius” means “comrade, friend, ally… Let’s not allow this pandemic to pull us apart but rather allow us to draw closer together,” he said.