Long Island school district reinstates indoor mask mandate after threat of losing in-person learning

Long Island

Students keep a social distance as they walk to their classroom in Highwood, Illinois on Sept. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. — A Long Island school district reversed course on Sunday after initially telling families it would no longer abide by the state’s indoor mask mandate.

In a joint letter addressed to the community on Sunday, the Hauppauge School District superintendent, board of education and teachers union said all students, faculty and staff would be required to wear face coverings indoors on Monday.

“In Hauppauge, we would never violate state law; that is not the lesson we want our children to learn. Opposition, in whatever form, must be done respectfully and always through lawful means,” the letter read.

The about-face came after the state Department of Health released a statement Sunday afternoon warning any school district that violated state COVID safety guidelines such as the indoor mask mandate would 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,” a Health Department spokesperson told PIX11 News.

In the letter to the community on Sunday, school officials said they did not want to jeopardize the district’s ability to teach students in-person.

“A shutdown of our schools would be extremely detrimental to the educational process and certainly not in the best interest of our students,” the letter read. “As such, all students, faculty and staff will be required to continue to wear masks while inside school facilities, as per previously explained protocols.”

Face coverings are no longer required in outdoor settings on school campuses, which falls in line with current state guidelines.

The Health Department’s warning came after the presidents of the school board and teachers union sent a letter last week to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker informing them the school district would stop abiding by the indoor mask mandate on Monday. The letter cited an array of factors, including a vaccination rate above 70% among staff members and large, well-ventilated classrooms.

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

The school board’s attempt to defy state guidelines came just days after Cuomo walked back a previous announcement that school districts could do away with the indoor mask mandate.

Cuomo 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.

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

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