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The debate over whether children should be required to wear masks in schools has spilled over from school district board meetings and classrooms to the courtroom.

The Massapequa School District and Locust Valley Central School District, both on Long Island, sued New York State over the mandate, which requires enforcement of mask-wearing by students and adults in school buildings. Both districts had implemented mask-optional policies before the mandate.

“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,” Massapequa School Board President Kerry Wachter said in a statement. 

A handful of other U.S. states, such as Iowa and Florida, have passed a law that forbids cities, counties and local school districts from requiring people to wear face masks that protect against the spread of the coronavirus.

The governors of some states have said that such rules of mask mandates infringe on personal liberty, while proponents of mask mandates say mask-wearing is needed to combat surging cases, fueled by the more contagious Delta variant, which has disrupted the reopening of schools across the country.

New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul issued a mask mandate for schools in New York when she took office on Aug. 24, in hopes of keeping schools open and students and teachers safe, she said.

“My top priority is to get children back to school and protect the environment so they can learn, and everyone is safe,” Hochul said in a statement. “We are now issuing guidance to make sure our school staff are vaccinated or tested regularly for themselves and their families, our students, and our communities. Our children deserve to be safe and protected in schools, and I am doing everything in my power to guarantee that.”

On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has been outspoken against kids wearing masks in schools, and attended “unmask our kids” rallies with Long Island parents in the summer. The congressman, who aims to challenge Hochul for the governor’s seat next year, has attacked her mask mandate on social media, saying, “New governor, same absurd, unscientific, power-hungry mandates.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sounded alarms on Aug. 2 with a report that the Delta variant is as contagious as chicken pox and can be passed on by people who are vaccinated. The report also found that pediatric hospitalizations soared over the summer of 2021, attributed to the spread of the Delta variant.

New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta applauded Hochul’s universal masking and vaccination policies for schools.

“We support universal mask-wearing as part of a layered mitigation strategy that also includes robust Covid testing, contact tracing, proper ventilation and other strategies recommended by public health experts,” Pallotta said. “We also support the governor’s move to require regular Covid testing for school staff who are not yet vaccinated. It’s critical that educators continue to have a voice in the implementation of vaccine requirements and other Covid policies at the local level.”

State Commissioner of Education Dr. Betty A. Rosa agreed, saying: “The State Education Department supports a consistent application of masking requirements in schools, easing the return to school with a common line of defense against the spread of the Covid variant.”

-With Reuters, Tim Bolger

For more coronavirus coverage, visit longislandpress.com/coronavirus.

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