Hochul to extend mandate for masks in schools, reevaluate after Feb break

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Gov. Kathy Hochul plans to extend her statewide mandate requiring students and staff to wear masks in school, the New York State Council of School Superintendents confirms.

Hochul is planning to extend the mandate through February break and re-evaluate afterward.

Hochul had a meeting with the council Tuesday at noon to discuss COVID strategies going forward.

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News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean checked in with Bob Lowry of the New York State Council of School Superintendents after the meeting.

Brean: "Bob what happened in that meeting with the governor today?"

Lowry: “Well the governor explained where the state is at. What we said was that we are seeing increasing frustrations, tensions within communities and diminishing acceptance of various Covid requirements including, most prominently, masks among people who to this point have been very excepting.”

Brean: “Did the governor say anything about what’s going to happen on the 21st when the school mask mandate expires?”

Lowry: “Yes, well there’s a state regulation that is scheduled to expire on February 21. The governor said she didn’t feel the state was in a position to do that at this time. And she said that the state would like to see what happens when students return from the February school break which begins on February 21.”

Brean: “Did the governor say how many weeks that extension would be?”

Lowry: “She did not, no.”

Last week, school superintendents from the Greater Rochester area sent a letter to Hochul asking for an "exit strategy" if the mask mandate were to be lifted for schools.

The letter, signed by 23 local school superintendents, most from Monroe County, and released publicly Tuesday, starts with an understatement: "The past two years have not been easy".

It goes on to say" We are asking the state to develop an exit strategy… Many families worry that masking rules and other mitigation strategies are here for good. They need reassurance that these measures will expire."

Executive Director of the Monroe County School Board Association Sherry Johnson’s team met with state lawmakers over the weekend and told them school boards want a plan.

“They’re asking for an exit strategy. They’re asking for what is it going to take?” Johnson said. “I think what the public is asking for, what parents are begging for and what school board members and superintendents want is: ‘What’s the end date? Where’s the end of this?’”

When the announcement was made Tuesday, a protest over mask mandates in schools was already underway in Pittsford. It was organized by a group called "Roc Off the Masks" that met for the first time to talk about what they want: A choice to wear masks in school, or not.

Eric Koomen helped organize it.

"We understand that may be coming but we want to make sure it’s for schools, it’s for businesses and there are no strings attached,” Koomen said.

Read the full letter below (mobile users, click here):

Monroe County superintendents letter to Hochul by News10NBC on Scribd

The pressure for Gov. Hochul to come to a decision is growing. In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy put a plan in place for mask requirements in schools to end on March 7. New York’s requirement for masks in schools is set to expire on Feb. 21.

Here in New York, schools have begun sending e-mails to parents for input on the mask mandate and how they should handle it.