Parents, community members concerned after Wayne County school defies state mask mandate


PALMYRA, N.Y. (WROC) — The masking policy at a private school in Wayne County is drawing criticism from some who say it runs afoul of state guidance. 

A letter sent from the principal of East Palmyra Christian School elaborates on the school’s stance on masking and vaccinations, as it relates to the church. That letter was sent to News 8 by a viewer.

Part of the letter says: “We encourage the free flow of information of any individual or agency to help clear one’s conscience on the issues of masking or vaccinations. We encourage you to do your own research and make you own conscience decisions in the direction that God leads your family.”

According to New York state guidance for schools, “all students, personnel, teachers, administrators, contractors, and  visitors must wear masks at all times indoors, regardless of vaccination status.”

This mandate applies to all kids over the age of 2 in private and public schools, unless they have a medical exemption. Health officials tell News 8 there are no religious exemption to this mandate. 

News 8 spoke with a Wayne County man who has close ties to the school, however he wanted to remain anonymous. 

“It’s just is astonishing that a principal and a board would put kids in harm’s way and defy the state mandate like this,” he said. “It’s as if the school is looking to actively challenge the mandate and to get in some kind of legal wrangling.”

He added he is concerned that not following masking guidelines could turn the area into a hot spot. Currently, 20% of positive cases are among kids in Wayne County. 

“What I’d like to see is I’d like to see the proper protocols followed so that everybody is safe. I mean, it’s stunning to think that these kids are wrapped up in this. It’s one thing if adults and parents have this view, but it’s another thing entirely to send your kids to a school that has no masks…that isn’t taking the right safety precautions,” the man added. 

This individual told News 8 he has heard from other families at the school who are also concerned with the well-being of their kids. 

“If they can’t find it in themselves to do the right thing, then that’s why we have the state’s mandate. That’s why we have this to compel them to take the appropriate steps to keep everybody safe. And they’re not doing that,” he said.

This isn’t the only concern we heard from a parent in Wayne County about masking at schools. 

Denise Okeefe, a mother in the county, said her daughter goes to Wayne Central Primary School. Since day one,  she said she’s been worried about proper masking there. 

“Her very first day, suddenly, pictures start popping up on an app. And here’s all these kids with no masks or their masks down under their chin and everything, like what’s going on here you know?,” Okeefe said. “It’s a bit concerning. I don’t know what we’re supposed to do here as parents, you know if we have concerns about COVID precautions, or any mask mandates that are being ignored.”

She says she relies on schools to keep her kids safe when she can’t be there to watch them. 

“Parents that do want to vaccinate their kids under the age of 12. We can’t yet so you know, it’s a bit worrisome. And nobody wants a sick kid. Nobody, no parent wants their child to come home sick.”

News 8 reached out to both EPCS and Wayne Central Primary School for comment. EPCS did not respond. 

Wayne County Primary said: “Our students wear masks when they are in the building. We have scheduled mask breaks. That’s in all of our schools.

Governor Kathy Hochul ordered a state-wide mask mandate for public and private schools at the end of August. 

Read the full letter

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