School districts on the North Shore rolled out plans for safely reopening this fall, imposing mask mandates and other measures even before New York’s new governor announced that masks would be required in all schools in the state to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The mask mandates have been met with ire from some residents.
On Tuesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul, who replaced Andrew Cuomo after he resigned in disgrace, said at a news conference: “My number one priority is getting children back to school and protecting the environment so they can learn safely. I am immediately directing the Department of Health to institute universal masking for anyone entering our schools.”
Hochul said the state will use $335 million in federal funds to launch a program that will provide coronavirus testing in all school districts. Hochul also advocated for teachers and staff members to be vaccinated, but aims to arrange weekly testing for those not vaccinated.
Over the past week, the Mineola, Roslyn, Sewanhaka and New Hyde Park-Garden City Park school districts unveiled reopening plans.
The North Shore school districts called for 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.
Districts said they will adhere to guidelines from the state Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding any further measures that may need to be taken with a rise in cases with the delta variant.
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.
In Mineola, the proposed health and safety protocols, released after last Thursday’s board meeting, “require that all faculty, staff, and students wear masks for all indoor activities regardless of vaccination status.” Outdoor activities, such as recess and sporting events, will not require masks.
District Superintendent Michael Nagler said he wanted to present the reasoning for the policy.
“It’s a balance of what do we want to accomplish when we reopen,” said Nagler. “I think the majority of people I hear from want schools back. They want kids in class learning the way we used to. We don’t want to fill out forms every day, don’t want to be six feet. We want our sports back, our extracurriculars back.”
After outlining similar health and safety mandates, Allison Brown, superintendent of the Roslyn schools, said filters and air conditioning have been installed in educational spaces, which will supplement air purifiers to increase air quality and ventilation.
Consideration of bringing plexiglass into classrooms that children can use at their leisure was requested by one speaker, and others pleaded to keep control in the hands of parents instead.
“Kids are being victimized,” said one resident. “It’s just evil.”
Many audience members in the board room during the Sewanhaka Central High School District’s Board of Education meeting asked to give taxpayers more freedom.
Public comments were mixed, with many parents wanting the option to decide about masks and to have more control over their children.
“If you say you’re going to use science, then use the science,” resident Danny Santana said. “You can take from me, I’m an adult. But if you go for my kids, I have to defend them.”
“We don’t have the ability to manage a school district based on trust. I can’t trust who’s vaccinated and who’s not,” another resident said. “Amidst this crisis, when the government made mask mandates, it made life easier.”
In New Hyde Park-Garden City Park, residents asked if the board was blindly following recommendations from the state.
“Last time I checked this was a republic,” said a resident. “What happened to the freedom of choice?”
“Why are we going to a higher and higher authority to find an excuse to bring back masks? Where is the advocacy for the children?” a resident said.
District Superintendent Jennifer Morrison said the board is doing whatever it can to make sure the school district can return to normalcy.
“As the guidance changes, we change with the guidance,” she said. “Masks are the mitigating factor to help us get there.”
Teachers and staff members in public school districts throughout New York City are required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus vaccine, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Friday. Roughly 148,000 school employees will be required by the city to have at least a first dose by Sept. 27.