To Mask or Not To Mask
By Craig Papajohn-Shaw
Volume 2 Issue 4
February 10, 2022
Image provided by Deseret News
On Sunday, February 27th, Governor Hochul announced she would lift the mandatory mask mandate across schools in New York State; school districts can decide whether to continue the mandate. On Tuesday, March 1st, the Valley Stream Central High School District Board of Education voted unanimously to opt for a mask optional plan. Acting Superintendent Loper has amended the masking policy within his "District Reopening Plan." Starting Wednesday, March 2nd, masks will no longer be mandated for students or staff within the district; Dr. Loper noted that the decision will now rest with each family and student.
In his first few weeks in office, newly elected Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman (R-NY) already found himself embroiled in a dispute with Governor Kathy Hochul (D-NY). One of Blakeman's pledges during his campaign is that he would manage the pandemic with "economic, social and mental health consequences in mind." As promised, he signed an executive order removing the mask mandate in Nassau County schools and giving local school boards discretion to decide how to proceed with regard to mandating masking. Hochul threatened to remove county board members who voted to toss the mask requirement and cut funds to those districts; the Governor claims state law supersedes local county orders.
Even with the threats made by the Governor, on January 20th, the Massapequa Union Free School District Board of Education voted to end the student and staff mask mandate; districts such as Island Trees followed suit. This is not the first time the Massapequa School District attempted to drop the mask mandate; back in October, the district filed a lawsuit challenging the mandate's legality. Massapequa's Board of Education Trustee Cher Lepre emphasizes, "it can't always just be Massapequa willing to take a stand." Hochul's current executive order on the New York schools mask mandate is in effect until February 1st, and then renewed it once again until February 28th; the order can continue to be renewed at the Governor's discretion as long as the courts don’t rule it to be unconstitutional. The Governor has implied that she would decide whether to renew the order close to the deadline of the current mandate, as she will have to evaluate the severity of the pandemic at that time. The Governor is up for election in 2022, and her decision to renew may be influenced by the fact that she will first have to survive the Democratic primary prior to the general election. As New York State (NYS) sees a drop in daily cases with projections showing positive cases will be even lower in NYS by mid-February, as well as an increase in people receiving their booster shot, there is even further doubt about whether the Governor will renew the order.
The issue sparked further controversy when the Nassau County Supreme Court ruled Hochul's mask mandate unconstitutional. Prior to Former Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) leaving office, the New York Legislature terminated his "emergency powers," which gave the authority to the Governor's office to institute a mask mandate. When Governor Hochul took office, she renewed the order of a mask mandate without having those powers granted by the legislature. At least 25 districts opted for a mask-optional policy on January 25th; this was until the Department of Health filed an appeal, at which point Appellate Judge Robert Miller issued a "stay" until he can review the matter of the case at the appellate level.
In Valley Stream North's Advanced Placement (AP) Government and Politics classes, an anonymous poll was conducted questioning students: "Do you agree with Massapequa school district's decision to NOT require masks anymore for all students?" The AP Government class consists of 12th graders; 77 students responded to the polls, where 27 of the students "approved" of Massapequa's decision, with 50 "against" the district's decision. The poll results implied 65% of students across the three sections of the course feel wearing masks should be mandated in schools. While the 77 students may not be a holistic view of how all students (or staff members) feel in the building, it indicates Massapequa's decision does concern the students at North. In response to the poll results, a senior in one of the sections of the class voiced, "Personally, I agree with the majority of students on this issue. Our school has a large number of students, and while some of my classes have approximately 15 students, some have approximately 30. Continued mask-wearing allows me to feel safe interacting with so many different people on a daily basis."
At the time of publication, The Valley Stream Central High School District had not indicated the desire to lift the mask mandate. In the event that the Governor does not renew the state mandate during the current school year, the Board of Education will have to vote on the matter, at which time they will have to consider many factors, including the safety of staff and students.