Gov. Kathy Hochul responded on Friday to reports of two Long Island school districts going against the statewide Covid-19 mask mandate in schools.
This week, the Massapequa Board of Education voted to end enforcement of mask-wearing when the mandate for wearing them in indoor, public spaces expires next month. Meanwhile, staff and faculty at Connetquot High School have come forward saying that administrators have not been enforcing it.
“I find it phenomenally disappointing that people are willing to play politics with children’s lives,” Hochul said when asked about it during a Covid-19 briefing at Brookhaven National Laboratories in Suffolk County. “Schools are safe [because] kids are wearing masks. This [mandate] has kept children safe in a learning environment.”
Hochul called the measure requiring masks in schools the “common sense, right thing to do” and “not permanent.”
However, not all parents and politicians agree. Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman went so far as to introduce an executive order that he said allows school districts’ boards of education to vote whether or not to enforce mask wearing.
Blakeman and Hochul both spoke earlier Friday during the Long Island Association’s annual State of the Region event.
“Yes, we have seen the ravages of Covid-19, but we cannot be afraid,” Blakeman said. “We cannot hide under the bed. We have to learn to live with the pandemic.”
He touted the county giving out 250,000 free at-home Covid-19 tests and more than 100,000 N-95 masks to local educators.
“We wanna keep our schools open,” he said. “We have to take into account when we think about things that we are doing to protect people, the social consequences of what we do … such as how do these regulations and restrictions that govt imposes, how do they affect the emotional well-being and anxiety of the people that we govern.”
“I applaud the Massapequa School Board for giving parents a voice, and the ability to choose what is right for them and their children,” Blakeman said in a statement. “Nassau County shouldn’t be painted with the same broad brush as the rest of the state, and I believe Nassau school boards and parents, who have their fingers on the pulse of their communities, should have the power to make decisions that are right for them.”
“It’s my understanding that when the state mandate lapses, they won’t follow it,” Hochul noted. “That’s actually what we expect. When the state mandate lapses, I expect all school districts will say, ‘we don’t have to do this anymore.’”
At Connetquot High School, a school psychologist who contracted Covid-19, as well as the district’s teachers association, reported that the school’s administrators were not enforcing mask-wearing because of complaints from parents. The school district and board of education, however, said that the protocols are in place regardless of the opinions of parents or board of education members.
Hochul responded that the state education department contacts schools to ensure they are enforcing the mandate.
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