Parents and teachers unions react to loosened school mask mandate |

Parents and teachers unions react to loosened school mask mandate

Stephanie Duprey
Updated: June 06, 2021 09:18 PM
Created: June 04, 2021 10:28 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Starting next week, schools can decide to do away with masks completely. While parents are excited, education officials are urging districts to pump the brakes.

One parent told News10NBC that she expects that at some point soon she won’t have to send her kids to school with a mask, but until then working with the school to implement this is no problem for her family. 

"I’m very excited that my son might not have to wear a mask on Monday, I'm stoked,” said Shaunna Smith, a Greece parent.  

Nicole Felts, a Penfield parent says she, too hopes her district adopts this sooner rather than later. 

"We've followed the guidelines from New York State, and from the CDC this entire pandemic. Masks are no longer mandated, I think we follow that guidance too,” Felts said.

The New York State health commissioner dropped a bombshell on schools. The new guidance says, the use of masks indoors and outdoors will not be required for students and staff who are not fully vaccinated.

Though some parents are on board, teachers unions are warning schools to think this option through.

"I think school districts should be very careful in rushing to implement this option,” said Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski. 

Urbanski said while it’s starting to feel like it, the race isn't over.

“We're close to the finish line but we're not there yet, and I don't think we should rush to implement this on June 7, we should wait until more kids are vaccinated,” Urbanski said.

The guidance does allow school districts to implement stricter standards.

New York State United Teachers wasn’t thrilled the state released the news last minute with only a few days to figure things out. In a statement the president said:

"Announcing on a Friday afternoon that masks will now be optional for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people in schools starting Monday — with only three weeks remaining in the school year — is whiplash-inducing news. We implore school districts to closely evaluate local conditions and connect with their educators and parents to decide the best course of action for protecting their school community."

News10NBC received a few statements from a few districts. 

The superintendent for East Irondequoit Sunday said: 

This afternoon I received the memo below from the New York State Department of Education. In the memo, NYSED has made it clear that there are no changes related to the current mandate to wear masks while on school grounds. Although there are no changes to the mask mandate effective Monday, June 7th, I am encouraged that the state will continue to update/revise their guidance regarding mask rules for schools and summer camps once they receive a response from the CDC.  Please look for further information in the coming day(s).

The Greece Central School District Superintendent Kathy Graupman said: 

Beginning Monday, June 7, the Greece Central School District will no longer require any students, employees, volunteers or visitors to wear masks during outdoor activities when social distancing is possible - including physical education classes and recess. We feel confident that it is safe to make this change next week given our community’s historically low COVID positivity rate, the CDC’s stance on masking while outdoors, and the New York State department of health’s acknowledgment that masking may not be medically tolerable in extreme heat. This is an independent decision that we are making as a district. I continue to be frustrated by how unresponsive New York State has been to our request for timely guidance changes. The last update for schools was issued at the beginning of April and a lot has changed over the last two months. Loosening masking requirements outdoors gives us some much needed flexibility and is another step toward a return to normalcy. Outdoor masking requirements remain in effect for events taking place this weekend, including proms and athletic contests. Beginning Monday, masking outdoors will be voluntary when social distancing is possible. Masks will still be required when inside our schools and on buses, even for those who are vaccinated. As a district, we will continue to advocate for new state guidance. Our schools need to be fully open come September.

Penfield Central School District Superintendent Thomas Putnam said:

 After consultation with local medical professionals and ongoing review of the CDC and NYS reopening guidance, we will be amending our reopening plans on Monday, June 7th to allow for the optional use of masks when outdoors at school.  Masking will continue to be required when inside all PCSD buildings and while being transported by bus. This local decision is being made due to several factors including the recent and expected summer temperatures, lack of any evidence of outdoor transmission at school, and decreased transmission rates across the county.  As we continue to advocate for NYS to update their school reopening guidance, we believe allowing optional masks while outdoors is supported by recent guidance for athletics and summer camps.

West Irondequoit Superintendent Aaron Johnson shared the following message with parents over the weekend: 

At this time, we have NOT received any official communication from the NYSDOH or governor to change the masking requirement. We now expect a change to come and are working with our staff and you to prepare, but until then, masking indoors remains a requirement per NYSDOH. As stated in Zucker's letter, when this change becomes official, schools may decide how to best proceed, including maintaining stricter standards. This decision must consider the local infection rates, the community's disposition, and any impact the change will have on learning. To further clarify this and eliminate any confusion, NYSED sent all schools the message you see included in the screenshot below. The existing mask order remains until further notice from the NYSDOH. With that said, we are making a change regarding the requirement for outdoor masking effective on Monday, June 7th. This change ties to the August 2020 NYS school reopening guidance, which states students and staff unable to tolerate a mask medically, are not subject to the requirement. Considering the high heat forecasted for June, students, staff, and visitors may choose to remove their masks outdoors on school grounds. This change includes during physical education class, recess, class activities, spectating at athletic events, and other events. Until the NYS Public High School Athletic Association changes its mask order, student-athletes must remain masked during competition as previously defined. We continue to recommend maintaining social distance and respecting those who may choose to remain masked outdoors despite this change.

Gates Chili Central School District released a statement on Sunday: 

On Friday, we shared an update about wearing masks outdoors (see below). Moments after sharing that message, we received word that the NYS Department of Health wrote a letter to the CDC, asking for new guidance in order to waive the mask mandate indoors. Like you, I wondered how this letter would affect our school community. We have worked through the weekend to get clarification on what this means for our staff and students.This afternoon, I received an update from the New York State Department of Education. The message reads, in part: “SED has been in communication with Executive staff regarding the...letter from Dr. Howard Zucker, New York State Commissioner of Health.  According to conversations with Executive staff, the intent of this letter was to obtain a response from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regarding differing standards for summer camps and schools; it has not changed any existing arrangements. Therefore, schools should continue to operate under their existing procedures until further notice. No changes have been, or will be, made by the Executive until after Monday June 7 to afford the CDC an opportunity to respond to the letter.” It is possible the state will announce a change to the guidance soon, but until then, masks indoors are still required for all students and staff in Gates Chili schools and on Gates Chili buses. That said, considering the expected high temperatures this week, I want to reiterate what I shared with staff last week: we will have frequent, safe mask and water breaks, and masks may be removed while outdoors if students are at least six feet apart. We share your frustration with the confusion this has caused, and we want to thank you for your patience and understanding. We will continue to work with state officials to get you answers and will share those as soon as possible.

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