Long Island school district lifting mask mandate, defying state orders: reports

Long Island

Boys and girls sitting at desks, raising hands (Getty Images).

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. — A school district on Long Island plans to go against the state Health Department’s mask mandate on Monday, according to published reports.

The presidents of the Hauppauge school board and the teachers union sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker on Thursday informing the officials they would no longer require students or staff to wear masks beginning Monday.

The letter cited an array of factors, including a vaccination rate above 70% among staff members and large, well-ventilated classrooms.

“The decision regarding masks in our schools must be made at the local level, not in Albany. The unique circumstances in Hauppauge allow us to eliminate the indoor, across-the-board mask mandate while still ensuring the safety of our students and staff,” the officials wrote in the letter, which was obtained by Newsday. “Sirs, it is time to take the masks off in schools and let the kids breathe, see each other’s smiles and enjoy being kids again.”

District Superintendent Dennis O’Hara told Newsday he was not consulted on the letter before it was sent.

“Masks should be worn to protect everybody in the school community,” O’Hara told the newspaper. “We have people who have underlying medical conditions who can’t get the vaccine, still have to come to work, but could be susceptible to what has been proven to be a deadly virus.”

A spokesperson for the state Department of Health told PIX11 News on Sunday that schools must follow the indoor mask mandate or risk losing authorization for in-person learning.

“Pre-K to Grade 12 schools must comply with DOH guidance in order to be authorized to remain open for in-person instruction. If a district is not following the masking requirements of the Department’s guidance, local health departments are the entities charged with enforcing these requirements,” the spokesperson said.

The letter came just days after the state walked back a previous announcement that school districts could do away with the indoor mask mandate.

Cuomo on Monday said the state would instead follow CDC guidance that requires masks indoors but allows districts to choose whether face coverings are required in outdoor settings.

The back-and-forth guidance caused confusion and frustration on school campuses across the state.

PIX11’s request for comment from the governor’s office was not immediately returned on Sunday.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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