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Chandler Families Weigh Mask Options As Students Head Back To School

By Rocio Hernandez
Published: Thursday, July 22, 2021 - 5:15am
Updated: Thursday, July 22, 2021 - 10:21am

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Tarwater Elementary School
Rocio Hernandez/KJZZ
Wednesday, July 21, 2021, was the first day of school at Tarwater Elementary School, which is part of the Chandler Unified School District.

Tarwater Elementary School was abuzz on Wednesday morning as parents ushered their students to class for the first day of the 2021-22 academic year. 

Pomerantz Family
Rocio Hernandez/KJZZ
Nicole Pomerantz and her son Ethan, a first grader at Tarwater Elementary School, pose for a photo on the first day of school. Pomerantz wants her son to wear a mask at school even though it's no longer required under Arizona law.

Mother Nicole Pomerantz was there dropping off her son Ethan for his first day of first grade. This was a big day for Ethan who spent the last school year learning from home.

“I work at the university. I was blessed enough where my employer let me work evenings and afternoons so that I could teach him online kindergarten during the day cause with COVID we were just not ready for that step," she said.

This school year, however, Pomerantz feels more comfortable sending Ethan to class in-person now vaccines are available for individuals 12 and older. She also thinks the pros of being back in-person currently outweigh the cons.

“I think socially it’s really important for kids to socialize cause we really missed that aspect last year and it showed emotionally and socially," Pomerantz said. 

But most elementary school students are still not old enough to get a COVID-19 vaccine. So Pomerantz is reminding Ethan to wash his hands frequently and keep his mask on while at school to be safe. But other parents and students will get the option to be maskless since lawmakers passed legislation in June that bans mask mandates at schools.

Osborn Family
Rocio Hernandez/KJZZ
Travis Osborn and his 9-year-old daughter Emma, a Tarwater Elementary School fifth grader, pose for a photo on the first day of the 2021-22 school year. Emma says she's looking forward to making new friends.

Father Travis Osborn and his 9-year-old daughter Emma noticed as soon as they got to campus that many were already walking around without their masks so they also took theirs off. As for whether Emma will wear a face mask while in class, Osborn said he's leaving that decision up to the fifth grader. 

“It’s her immune system," Osborn said, adding that Emma has been fine while not wearing one this summer. 

Emma initially said she didn't want to wear a mask, but later said she might put it on when she's around others, but take it off when she's at her desk. 

Parent Erica Manheimer welcomes the flexibility this school year, and thinks it will be good for her two sons. One is in fourth grade, and the other is in fifth. Her sons struggled last school year when masks were required. 

"Even though we constantly reminded them this is cause of COVID and everything, they still had a hard time," Manheimer said. "Honestly it started to get them frustrated because they were getting in trouble for it and they weren’t as enthusiastic about being there at school.”

Manheimer’s sons did come to school on Wednesday with their masks in hand, but their mom said she won't require them to wear it. 

"Honestly they get so fidgety and it distracts them from their schoolwork and everything," she said.

COVID school banner
Rocio Hernandez/KJZZ
A banner at Tarwater Elementary School reminds students to stay home if they sick, wash their hands and other strategies to stay safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But even though schools won’t be requiring face masks this school year, Pomerantz said she’s encouraged by the other mitigation strategies the district will be able to implement this school year. Those include social distancing practices, small instructional groups and contact tracing and quarantine. 

“I think the Chandler school district in particular has done an excellent job in mitigation, following the trends and the data and being scientific about everything and cautious," she said. "So I am not worried about his teachers or the school.” 

And Pomerantz said she will continue to watch the COVID-19 case numbers and see what happens. 

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Sign tells parents to drop off students
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Tarwater Elementary School isn't letting parents on its campus as part of its COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
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Tarwater elementary school students wait for school staff to walk them to their classrooms on the first day of school on Wednesday, July 21.
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