Masks Still Required in NY Schools, Despite Announcement Relaxing Rules

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The New York State Education Department said Sunday that masks will still be required in school buildings, two days after the state Department of Health announced that the requirement would be relaxed for the last three weeks of the school year.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office shared the health department’s letter Friday suggesting students and vaccinated staffers should be allowed to not wear masks indoors, drawing cheers from critics of the mask rule. But those cheers were dashed before the weekend was over.

“Schools should continue to operate under their existing procedures until further notice,” the education department wrote to school board presidents statewide, according to the Albany Times Union.

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker had issued a letter informing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the state intends to allow school districts to waive the mask mandate for students outside the building unless the CDC advises the state before Monday of contrary data or science. Zucker cited the inconsistency in the CDC guidance between children who are unvaccinated at summer camps and the current rules for unvaccinated children at schools.

“Announcing on a Friday afternoon that masks will now be optional for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people in schools starting Monday — with only three weeks remaining in the school year — is whiplash-inducing news,” New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said in a statement after Zucker’s letter was released. “Short of any additional guidance from the state or the CDC before Monday, we implore school districts to closely evaluate local conditions and connect with their educators and parents to decide the best course of action for protecting their school community.”

The education department’s communication Sunday proved similarly frustrating for others.

“The conflicting messages coming from the state regarding masks in schools are causing confusion for school officials and parents,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said. “We need clarification immediately. This decision must be put in the hands of the educators and parents who know their children and particular circumstances best.”