Health officials rush to clarify school masking rules amid conflicting guidance

Coronavirus

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The outdoor mask mandate has been lifted at schools across New York starting Monday, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

However, after a lot of confusion from the state, it’s not super clear on what school districts will require when it comes to wearing masks indoors. Some local school districts seem to be making their own guidelines.

On Friday, State health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker sent a letter to the CDC, outlining new guidance for mask-wearing in schools and camps starting Monday, unless the CDC said otherwise. 

On Monday, Governor Cuomo announced the CDC told him that morning that students should continue masking while inside at school for the remainder of the year. 

“The CDC thinks that is not advisable. That was posed in the question. We asked them, what do you think in the case of New York. Remember the CDC is setting a policy for the nation. So you have New York on one end, one of the lowest positivity and then you have states that have 4 to 5 times our positivity, they have to cover both,” Gov. Cuomo said. 

However, the after Zucker’s letter was sent Friday, local school districts started sending out new guidelines over the weekend for masking. 

In letters to parents Sunday, the Greece Central School District said the following would be effective on June 7:  

  • Masking in school and on the bus will be optional, but strongly recommended for students and staff members.
  • Masking outdoors is no longer required.  
  • Masking may be required during various activities during the school day, so please still bring a mask to school.  

Rashana Greene, a parent of students in Greece, said the changes made her and her kids uncomfortable. 

“They’re uncomfortable with the new rule. They are not ready for it. They think it’s happening too fast,” she said. 

Greene also said the district said in an email to parents they would “honor the right” for people to choose whether to wear a mask. 

“That is not based on science, it’s not based on data, I feel like there was pressure they received and they buckled to the pressure, Greene said.” 

On Monday evening, the district’s superintendent, Kathleen Graupman, sent families the following message:

“Given the confusion around masking in schools, we are awaiting formal written guidance from the State before we make any adjustments. It is unfortunate that the State continues to put school districts in untenable situations regarding decision making. Thank you for your patience. You can expect an update tomorrow evening or Wednesday morning.”

According to the Webster Central School District’s website, masking will also be optional, but still strongly encouraged:

  • Indoors, mask use will be strongly encouraged but not required for students, staff, teachers, and counselors who are not fully vaccinated.  
  • Outdoors, masks will not be required for unvaccinated students and staff in most circumstances.
  • Both indoors and outdoors, students and staff who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks.  

Lachiusa says he welcomes the new changes, even if there are only a few weeks left of school. 

“I think that shows true leadership to come out and do something that is socially unpopular because it’s the right thing to do. And again, all the information we have supports what Webster did,” he said. “It’s time that New York gets behind the science and starts to follow through because right now, they are behind.” 

Lachiusa also said he supports families getting to make their own decisions about masking. 

“It’s a controversial topic but it shouldn’t be. I really shouldn’t be. I support the choice to wear a mask. Some people don’t feel comfortable sending their kids without the mask, and that is their choice to do that,” he said. 

After the CDC’s recommendation on continuing to mask while in school, Governor Cuomo said they didn’t want schools to have to make a ton of changes in the last few weeks before summer. 

“You would have to do a whole new set of guidance. You only have two weeks. You would have to communicate with all the parents, you’d have to communicate with all the teachers,” Gov. Cuomo said. 

Kathleen Graupman is also the president of the Monroe County Council of School Superintendents and released the following statement:

“Based on the Governor’s press conference today, school districts are expecting updated written guidance in the near future that will clarify masking requirements. It is unfortunate that the State continues to put school districts in untenable situations regarding decision making. Local superintendents are making the best decisions they can based on their local conditions and their communities.”

Many local school districts will still require masking indoors until the end of the school year. 

To check what some local school districts are requiring in terms of masking, click below: 

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