Port Washington school district rolls out reopening plans with indoor mask mandate

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Port Washington school district rolls out reopening plans with indoor mask mandate
Port Washington School District Superintendent Michael Hynes said the district will enforce an indoor mask mandate for students, teachers and staff this fall. (Screencap by Rose Weldon)

The Port Washington school district’s reopening plan, the first to be publicized in public school districts on the North Shore, features indoor mask mandates for all students and staff, along with following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The guidance, published at the district’s Board of Education meeting on Aug. 10, does not require staff to be vaccinated when school begins on Sept. 2, but all students and staff members who  have received the coronavirus inoculation are encouraged to provide their school nurse with a copy of their vaccination card.

District Superintendent Michael Hynes, in a forum with Newsday on Tuesday, acknowledged that the guidelines would not appease all stakeholders in the district, but took the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the county into account while drafting them.

“We all know, we’re going to have parents that are happy and some parents who are not happy,” Hynes said.

Efforts to reach other North Shore districts were unavailing, but some districts may outline their reopening plans soon as they hold the last board meetings of the summer.

According to the guidelines, the Port Washington school district will adhere to the prioritizing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics of in-person education. Thus no fully remote or virtual learning program will be offered. Students who are quarantined will receive a livestream to their classes. 

According to CDC guidelines, a close contact is defined as someone who was within six feet of an infected individual for at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period, two days after the illness began. Any individual in close contact with someone infected is required to stay home for 10 days after exposure.

“The bottom line is, whatever resources we have, we’re going to really funnel them to ensure all of our kids are in school as much as possible,” Hynes said. “If we know for a fact that masks help, then for us, it makes a lot of sense to move forward.”

District guidelines also indicate that social distancing of three feet indoors will be enforced for students and teachers. Social distancing of six feet will be enforced for indoor physical education, lunch breaks and some music classes.

Transportation schedules will return to normal, but students and drivers will be required to wear a mask at all times. The guidelines also indicate that the district will refer to guidance from the county Health Department in respect to quarantining students, staff and teachers.

Athletic seasons and other school activities will commence in the fall, with fans being permitted to attend outdoor events with no restrictions. Indoor events will require fans to maintain three-feet social distancing when possible and masks.

The rolling out of guidelines comes after the state Department of Health and the governor’s office announced that they would not provide advice to curb the spread of the increasingly infectious virus within hundreds of elementary, middle and high school walls.

New York’s Department of Education released a health and safety guide last week, recommending that everyone entering a school facility wear a mask or face covering. Recommendations of indoor social distancing of three feet, with six feet between students, teachers and staff members who are not fully vaccinated, were also made in the report.

“The State Education Department will continue its efforts to work closely with federal, state, and local agencies so that schools have the information and resources necessary to make fully informed decisions about health and safety measures, and to welcome our students, teachers, and staff back to supportive and engaging teaching and learning experiences,”  Education Commissioner Betty Rosa said.

Districts could implement a range of preventive measures, but a vaccine mandate for eligible populations is not considered to be legally possible, according to Jay Worona, deputy executive director and general counsel for the New York State School Boards Association, though he acknowledged it depends on whom you ask.

“In the absence of there being express legal authority in the law for districts to be able to impose that type of a mandate, that therefore, they don’t have the authority,” Worona said about one legal interpretation. “Even if they had the authority, they would still have to collectively bargain it because it is going to be a term and condition of employment for our staff.”

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