NYS Health Dept. issues universal mask mandate for schools, 2 LI school districts reviewing mandate

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The New York State Department of Health is mandating that all public and private school students in grades pre-K-12 wear masks to school this fall. New York Governor Kathy Hochul said this week she would be instructing the Department to issue the mandate.

The mandate issued to school administrators across New York State Friday night said the Department of Health filed the emergency regulation under the authority of the Public Health and Health Planning Council and the Commissioner of Health.

The mandate said that due to the "increasing circulation of the Delta COVID-19 variant" the state must issue regulations for schools.

"Certain settings and areas pose increased challenges and urgency for controlling the spread of this disease because of the vulnerable populations served, the disproportionate percentage of individuals (e.g. children) who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and/or the substantial to high levels of community transmission."

The mandate states studies from Thailand and China, as noted by the CDC, prove mask-wearing significantly reduces transmission.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin declined to discuss the mandate with Eyewitness News during an outreach event in Harlem Saturday.

"I am talking with the Governor about that, but I'm going to leave that comment to her," he said at the Hope for Harlem event.



At least two school districts on Long Island told Eyewitness News that they are not yet adjusting their mask optional policies for students.

The Commack School District said in a statement, "The District's legal counsel is reviewing the directive issued by the New York State Department of Health and assuming confirmation from legal counsel will comply with the directive."

The Commack School District is allowing students to remove their masks while seated at their desks. The District has installed sneeze guards around all desks.

The Massapequa School Board would not comment on whether it plans to change its optional mask policy in light of the new Department of Health mandate.

"The Board of Education will be meeting to discuss the new directive," Superintendent Lucille Iconis said in a statement to Eyewitness News.

Some parents in the Smithtown School District said they are gearing up to demand their school board put pressure on the state to allow mask-wearing in schools to be a local decision.

"All we want is parent choice," Smithtown parent Andrew Manello said.

Parent Vinnie Saunders said wearing a mask to school is preventing his non-verbal 4-year-old son with autism from learning.

"He needs to be looking at your face," he said.

The Smithtown School Board is expected to issue its back-to-school plan on Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m. during a special board meeting.

Both Manello and Saunders said they, along with other similarly minded parents, plan to attend to demand the board take action against the state.

On the other hand, many parents support mask-wearing for children in schools.

Eyewitness News spoke with several parents and students at the Hope for Harlem event Saturday about the universal mask mandate.

"I think we're ready to do anything to keep the kids safe," one father said.

David Nguyen, of Harlem, said he likes the idea of his son wearing a mask to school because he said it seems like every day he receives an email from his son's school about someone who has tested positive.

"He should definitely wear a mask every day," he said.

Some students Eyewitness News spoke with at the event said they believe wearing masks is good to keep people safe, but described it as "annoying" to wear a mask for such a long period of time.

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It is a different tune at this year's back-to-school party in East New York.



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