The Massapequa Union Free School District and the Locust Valley Central School District are suing Governor Kathy Hochul and New York Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker in a joint lawsuit over their recent decision to mandate masks in school for all students over the age of 2, faculty and staff. LVCSD Board of Education President Brian Nolan and MUFSD BOE President Kerry Wachter both submitted affidavits in the suit filed on Sept. 10 opposing the state’s decision.
In the lawsuit the districts, along with Massapequa BOE Vice President Jeanine Caramore individually representing her child, submitted multiple pieces of evidence showing the effects of a mask mandate on student’s mental health, articles from different publications calling the mandate into question, studies on mask wearing for children and the end of New York’s state of emergency declaration, relinquishing the power of the governor to execute emergency executive orders.
Previously, the state announced on Aug. 18 that mandating masks was up to the discretion of each district.
Both Massapequa and Locust Valley schools both voted and made the decision to not require masks.
The mask optional policy from the state was reversed on Aug. 27 when newly-appointed Governor Kathy Hochul directed the state’s Department of Health to mandate masks in all schools, public or private.
In Locust Valley, parents and students were upset with the district’s decision to overturn its defiance of the state’s mandate at an Aug. 31 BOE meeting in the face of threats from the state to cut aid to the district if the mandate wasn’t followed.
“The board of education is disturbed that the Department of Health made this determination, however the board is not in a position to violate the mandate,” Superintendent Kenneth Graham said at the meeting.
The decision came after the district’s legal counsel, Ed McCarthy, advised the board that its decision was in violation of the law. The board also received a letter from Commissioner of Education Betty Rosa which outlined the consequences of the decision.
“School officers take an oath to obey all legal requirements, not just those which they deem expedient,” Rosa said. “If the law is not followed, it could result in removal from board positions and a withholding of state aid.”
At the meeting, a barrage of parents and students stood in the face of the BOE and expressed their frustration at the board’s decision to give up the fight and follow the state’s lead. As each person came up to oppose the decision, the majority of people in the auditorium that night cheered and applauded speakers.
In Massapequa, parents have been adamant about their opposal to any mandatory mask mandates dating back to June when then-Governor Andrew Cuomo reversed a mask-optional rule shortly after the school day started on Monday, June 7.
An anti-masking rally attended by residents and public officials was held the day after at Massapequa’s John J. Burns Park. Roughly two months later and the week prior to current Governor Kathy Hochul being sworn in, the Massapequa School District announced at its August public board meeting that it would not require masks for students and staff when the school year began. The decision was greeted with cheers and thunderous applause by mostly unmasked parents in attendance.
With Hochul deciding to follow through on issuing a mandatory mask mandate in public schools around the state, the Massapequa School District chose to follow the lead of vocal anti-masking parents. It was joined by the Locust Valley Central School District in filing a lawsuit against Hochul, the New York State Department of Health (DOH) and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.
A district statement was read at the Sept. 9 school board meeting that declared, “The lawsuit demonstrates that neither the Health Commissioner, nor the new Governor, Kathy Hochul, have the power to establish a Statewide mask mandate policy as an emergency health measure, that such authority resides only with the Legislature; otherwise, it is a matter for local control.” It further added, “This absence of legal authority to issue a statewide school mask mandate was candidly and repeatedly acknowledged by Governor Cuomo and the Health Commissioner during Governor Cuomo’s tenure. Nothing has changed except the occupant of the Governor’s mansion.” The statement concluded with, “Our lawsuit seeks to vindicate the authority of our elected school boards under current law to weigh competing considerations and establish the best local policy for our students—mask mandate or mask optional, together with a comprehensive opening plan.”
On the matter of the pending litigation, the Locust Valley Central School District declined to comment.
-Tim Seeberger also contributed to this story