"We can learn a lesson from our students": Public health looks to Devils Lake students as models for adjusting to mask mandate

Jack Williams
Devils Lake Journal
Devils Lake High School students Madisyn White, Jailyn Martinson, and Jeremiah Houle mask up during a cooking class

Since March, the Coronavirus has brought a lot of change to society. Whether it's new rules about social distancing, wearing a mask, or event cancellation, things have changed over the past eight months. The key part of continuing to live life similarly is adjusting. 

The new statewide mask mandate put in place by governor Burgum on Nov. 13 has put the public in an unfamiliar situation. However, public health officials are saying that there is a group we can learn a lesson or two from about adjusting to a new normal: the student population in Devils Lake's Public Schools. 

"We have had a very good response from our student population within our schools," Lake Region Public Health Ramey County RN Annette Groves said. "We're hoping that positive mask-wearing behavior extends beyond the school day."

After going remote for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year, Devils Lake High School students returned to school under new policies requiring face mask usage throughout the day, along with social distancing. Not only have students been itentive with the general change of wearing a mask, but have also adjusted to new changes that the school board has put in place in response to the worsening pandemic. 

The school is still following a hybrid schedule, splitting up two groups of students into "A" and "B" days. Originally students had to wear their masks in common spaces around the school where they couldn't socially distance, but now they have to keep their masks on all the time, except when eating. However, the students have had no issue in adjusting.  

"The students have been nothing short of amazing," Devils Lake High School principal Ryan Hanson said. "I just think kids teach us sometimes and with all of the changes that have been necessary throughout the pandemic, I feel like our youth have handled it so well. They're showing their future as leaders." 

It's not just the willingness to adjust that has stood out to school and health officials around the county, but the ease of the adjustment. Students rarely come into the school without a mask, and when they do, there is always immediate action to find one. In occasionally coming across citizens in the general public who don't want to wear a mask, the adjustment by students speaks volumes to the general public. 

"It's a take-home lesson that we can learn from our kids," Grove said. "They took that mask up the mandate and "oh ok" and went on their way. I know the high school, in particular, has watched their cameras and have not caught one student not complying. If we could have that at our community businesses and public facilities, that would be wonderful."

According to Hanson, mask-wearing is not an issue at the high school. Most situations where a student isn't wearing a mask are not on purpose, but on accident as Hanson said a student will forget to put it on after eating or be going to get one from the office after forgetting it at home. 

"They're prepared," Hanson said. "They realize that on the way to school they forgot a mask and they head right to the office to get one. I've had zero disciplinary issues I've had to deal with regarding masking up or anything with social distancing or mandates. The kids have behaved beautifully this year." 

A lot of the student population effort to wear a mask is based on wanting to stay in school and wanting to continue co-curricular activities. Devils Lake High School has maintained its hybrid scheduled throughout the year and had not been forced to close due to COVID-19. While Devils Lake athletics did have a two weeks postponement in its volleyball program due to COVID-19 exposure, all of its sports teams were still able to complete their full season. 

The new executive order in place impacts the student population again as sports have been postponed to Dec. 14, however, teams may start practicing on Nov. 30. Students are doing their part to get back to where life was pre-March 2020 and it's showing to those in charge. 

"They want to be in school, have activities and get back to what all of us would consider a normal life," Hanson said. "They're willing to do whatever it takes to get those things back. All of us would learn from them and do whatever is necessary. Whether we agree or disagree, the kids are showing, that when done in unison, we can stay in school. We've had very limited close contact cases in school because kids are masking up, social distancing, washing their hands. All those little things they've been doing have been building up."

The biggest movement by the students is the self-awareness to stay home if they aren't feeling good. From there, Hanson said students still take responsivity in learning from home. Even parents have raved about how well students have adjusted to the new normal.  

With COVID-19 cases continuing to climb in the state and new orders in place, the students have shown that the adjustment to new mandates can be an easy one. Students have masked up in hopes to return to a "new normal" and health officials are hoping that the general public can do the same. 

"There are things that have become common," Hanson said. "Things have greatly changed over X number of years and this is one of those times when we're in an unprecedented situation, which creates changes that we would've never foreseen. You just need to do what's expected. Sometimes we do things, not for ourselves, but others." 

"For those people who are susceptible, do your part, and wear a mask. Also, understand that some people cannot wear a mask, and be cordial and understanding to them along with doing what we can to help them stay healthy too."

Jack Williams covers Lake Region sports and general news for The Devils Lake Journal. Contact him via email at JGWilliams1@gannett.com, on Twitter @jackgwilliams, or phone at 701-662-2127.