Members of the Manhasset community spoke out against mask mandates and aspects of the school district’s plans to reopen schools during last week’s Board of Education meeting.
The district’s plans to reopen, which coincide with recommendations from federal and state agencies, feature mask mandates for indoor activities, regardless of a student or staff member’s vaccination status, along with three feet of social distancing in the classroom.
Gov. Kathy Hochul ordered districts across the state to mandate masks in efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Concerned parents in the Manhasset school district voiced their opinions on the effectiveness of mask-wearing with a recent surge in delta variant cases throughout the country during the meeting. One mother with two children enrolled in the district expressed the need for children to have breaks where masks can be taken off.
“These kids are going to be going from classrooms to hallways having no mask breaks,” she said. “I don’t know how that was not thought of.”
The reopening presentation to the public indicated that mask breaks would be provided to elementary students during lunch. Secondary school students will also be permitted mask breaks during lunch, with 11th- and 12th-grade students being permitted to exercise off-campus lunch privileges this year.
Another resident spoke on the need for the district to analyze up-to-date scientific information on how effective masks and social distancing are.
“There should be scientific data given to everybody about the effects of these masks and how they work,” the resident said. “The truth is, they don’t work. It’s getting to a point where, as a board, you should be giving out real data for us to see. To me, putting a mask on my child is very disturbing.”
In updated guidance published in July, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that everyone in public indoor areas where transmission of the delta variant is “substantial or high” wear a mask, regardless of their vaccination status. The CDC classifies the variant as “highly contagious,” indicating that vaccines and masks “are needed to reduce the transmission.”
District resident George Shu had concerns surrounding who would enforce the mask mandates, which stretch from classrooms to transportation.
“We are taking our children’s lives and playing with fire,” he said. “Who is going to enforce the mask mandates?”
Shu, a father of four, said he was also concerned about the lack of remote options for students.
“Why is it that we are not given a choice, but yet forced, to have our kids in school where the remote learning process actually worked very well for us last year,” Shu asked the board. “Why is it that everyone is forced to be in person at this point?”
District officials referred to the state Education Department’s recommendations that students should return to full in-person instruction this year rather than using hybrid and remote options.
However, according to the department’s health and safety guide on reopening, districts should have contingency plans to provide remote learning to students should the virus cause them to close for in-person instruction.