Battle Lines Drawn For Indoor Mask Mandates

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Massapequa and Farmingdale parents protest state code reversal

Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino speaking at a recent anti-mask mandate rally held at John J. Burns Park in Massapequa on Tuesday, June 8. (Photo courtesy of the Town of Oyster Bay)

As COVID-19 positivity rates continue to plummet and vaccination numbers go up, Long Island parents are chafing at certain pandemic restrictions Governor Andrew Cuomo has continued to enforce. With only two weeks left in the school year, Cuomo did an about-face, revoking a previously voluntary indoor mask mandate and making face coverings mandatory on Monday, June 7. New York State has been taking its lead from the CDC. Health Commissioner Howard Zucker sent a letter to the national public health agency on Friday, June 4, indicating the state was going to issue an edict making indoor use voluntary for schools unless CDC policy ran counter to this.

At this point, three Long Island districts, Sachem, Massapequa and Patchogue-Medford, were mask-optional until Cuomo provided clarification shortly after the school day started on Monday, June 7. All three districts had to reinstate the rule that same day. In addition, the state sent written correspondence and made a phone call to Massapequa School Superintendent Lucille Iconis, who was informed the district was to reinstate the indoor mask mandate effective Tuesday, June. 8. According to a press release sent to parents and posted on the district website, “The governor’s representative made it clear that the district would incur sanctions for non-compliance which would include but not be limited to monetary fines, school closures and the ability to operate in person. Based on these directives, effective immediately, all students, staff and visitors must wear masks indoors. The mask mandate also extends to school buses. The board of education has no other option at this point than to comply with the law and directives of the governor of New York State.” Mask wearing continued to not be required for outdoor activities. Otherwise, the mask wearing mandate is to remain in effect through the remainder of the school year, unless subsequent guidance to remove this mandate is issued by the state.

Backlash was swift as a midday rally was held at Massapequa’s John J. Burns Park on Tuesday, June 8. Parents, students and a number of public officials showed up. Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino attended and released a statement standing in opposition to the state’s policy reversal.
“We stand united with parents, families, children and educators in demanding that New York State end mask mandates and return decision making to families,” Saladino said. “There has been too much conflicting information coming from state officials, causing unnecessary confusion and frustration. It’s time to unmask our kids! More than 25 states do not require student masks and no reports exist of widespread problems in those schools. On Monday, New Jersey’s governor gave school districts the local decision-making authority to unmask students due to the heat. Yet, our state hides behind the CDC despite claiming they would make regional decisions with New Jersey. It’s just wrong!”

In a rare show of bipartisan convergence, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran agreed with Saladino.
“Today’s announcement from the state regarding masks in schools has added another layer of confusion for parents and school officials rather than clarifying the situation, she said. “It’s well past time for this decision to be put in the hands of parents and educators.”
Parents in attendance insisted the reversal was unnecessary pointing to states and counties that have been unmasked and claiming children were not sick or dying. Others decried the state’s alleged heavy-handed tactics with one parent claiming insurance companies were being contacted by Albany about not providing coverage due to this anti-mask stance. The claim was refuted by Cuomo Downstate Spokesperson Jordan Bennett in a statement that read, ““The district’s superintendent was provided with the information and she thanked us. Attempts to make this anything more is outrageous and—frankly—a lie.”

Furious Farmingdale Parents
Massapequa parents were not alone in their outrage over the state’s handling of the indoor mandate for school districts. A public school board meeting held at Farmingdale’s Weldon E. Howitt Middle School on Wednesday, June 2, abruptly ended when some parents attending refused to mask up, prompting the Farmingdale School Board to walk out. (The meeting was rescheduled in a virtual format days later). Barbara Abboud, a member of the group Moms for Liberty was in attendance and put her mask on after being asked to despite vehemently opposing the state policy.

“I think it should be a parental choice,” she said. “Our children are suffering. They’re having mental health issues that I think outweigh the minimal safety that a mask can provide.”
Abboud and a number of Farmingdale parents wanted the district to write Albany about overturning these guidelines. While the district declined comment, Farmingdale School District Superintendent Paul Defendini released a statement reiterating that the indoor mask mandate would be enforced starting Tuesday, June 8. It also read, “Both the district administration and board of education realize and appreciate the differing viewpoints many in our community have regarding mask wearing in our schools. However, the governor was very clear in his directive—masks must be worn by all students, staff and visitors while in school buildings. We will continue to follow this mandate until such time as the district receives updated guidance from either the governor’s office, NYSED, or NYSDOH, which at this time, requires masks to be worn by all while inside district buildings. Not following these mandates could result in serious consequences.” An additional question and answer fact sheet on the district website explained exceptions (any student with a medical concern caused by mask wearing), places and times where mask wearing wouldn’t be enforced (during physical education classes and outdoor recess) and what the fall might look like (impossible to predict in May what September will look like).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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