Schools react to Hochul’s plans for staff vaccine requirement, masking

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — With the spread of the delta variant, Gov. Kathy Hochul was firm on where she stands when it comes to masking and vaccines in school this morning in an interview on Morning Joe on MSNBC.

“What I don’t have is the ability to mandate vaccines because the legislature did not confer on the governor at the time this time the executive powers necessary,” Hochul said. “Governor Cuomo had that last year but that is not in place right now so I can’t mandate right now but I also plan on working, I am working already with everyone that’s involved to see if we can get to the same outcome.”

She called on state health officials to impose a universal mask mandate and wants teachers to have to get the vaccine or have a weekly test-out option.

“I’m decisive. Give me the data, give me the input, talk to Dr. Fauci,” Hochul said. “This makes sense for New Yorkers and I’ll take the heat."

As of now, many local school districts are imposing universal mask mandates.

“We announced several weeks ago that we would be universal masking and that was simply met with appreciation and support,” Brighton Superintendent Dr. Kevin McGowan said.

McGowan said its mandate was met with no pushback.

‘“I don’t think there’s a debate, to be honest with you,” McGowan said. “I think the idea is if you can help somebody to the left of you, somebody to the right of you, you should do it and that’s what we talk to children in school all the time so the idea that kids in schools can help other people slow the transmission and the spread of covid by wearing a mask is really all that we need to know.”

Greece Board of Education President Sean McCabe said the current plan at the Greece Central School District includes masks due to the high infection rate.

“We’re going to review every 10 weeks or sooner, whether to continue with the mask, lighten the masking, etc,” McCabe said. “We have no plans to mandate the vaccine it’s not something the school district is interested in doing."

Hochul said she’s met with the right leaders to make a mandate possible if powers are given.

“My approach is: Consult with people who are involved with something that is going to affect them. I’ve met with the leadership of our state unions, the school boards, school superintendents, school administrators, various immigrant groups and all the stakeholders I can think of. I did a call with them before I even took office. I got their opinions,” Hochul said.

If given emergency powers, Hochul said the mandate would include the option of either getting the vaccine or face weekly testing "for now."

“Certainly I think what they’ve done is it needs to outline some ideas that makes sense in terms of people having the option of testing weekly if they are not willing to get the vaccination for whatever reason that may be and although I would like to see obviously everybody 100% vaccinated, we’re very support of that. We would encourage people if they are not vaccinated to go get vaccinated,” McGowan said.

McGowan said an option is best. As for a flat mandate, he said that pressure and decision should be left up to the state.

“We’re waiting for the state to take action. We actually feel with regard to each of these issues, the state, and the state health department and county health department should be making those issues,” McGowan said. “The experts in public health should be making those decisions and then we should be working with them to implement those decisions, we aren’t public health experts although safety and health is a top priority for us for our students it should be happening from a policy perspective in a grander more consistent across the state type of way.”

But not all school districts want the state to have control.

“We want local control. Let us make the best decisions for our community using the information through the county health department and the best info they can provide for us, let us make the decision,” McCabe said.

McCabe said all of this back and forth with the state is distracting and the goal is to have all the kids back in school five days a week in whatever way works best for each district.

“It is frustrating because I mean parents they don’t email Governor Hocuhl they email me, they call me, and they show up at my meetings,” McCabe said. “They aren’t showing up in Albany banging on the doors complaining about mask mandates and potential mask mandates.”