The Mohonasen school board is set to meet Saturday to pass a resolution calling on the state to drop indoor mask guidelines that recommend students continue to wear masks inside school buildings.
A meeting notice posted on the district website Friday said the board at 1 p.m. on Saturday “will hold a special meeting to pass” the resolution, which asks the state for “immediate relief from the wearing of masks for our students for in-person learning.”
While state health officials earlier this week opened the door to districts eliminating mask requirements for students outside, rules that also will allow summer camps to go without masks outdoors, officials kept in place guidance requiring students and staff to wear masks indoors.
A letter state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on June 4 suggesting state officials were considering lifting indoor mask requirements stirred mass confusion among school officials and families. The letter said the state planned to drop most mask requirements unless the CDC offered a reason not to do so.
The letter was not a formal policy, but it was widely reported as a signal of an imminent policy change. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday said the state would drop the outdoor mask requirement but keep in place the indoor requirement, pointing to advice from the CDC and dismissing the confusion created by the initial letter.
“Many parents of our students have made a plea for relief from the mask mandate for their children,” according to the proposed Mohonasen resolution.
Mohonasen Superintendent Shannon Shine in a Friday interview said he and board members had received “lots of emails, lots of phone calls” from parents wanting the district to drop the mask requirement for a myriad of reasons from health concerns to personal liberty.
Shine said he advised the board against plowing forward to lift indoor mask requirements on their own, so board members developed a resolution this week asking state officials to grant district flexibility to develop their own policies. Shine also criticized state health officials for publicizing the June 4 letter and creating widespread confusion across the state.
“After that [Department of Health letter] debacle on Friday, someone should lose their job for putting out such misinformation and causing such a furor,” Shine said.
Shine said he would be comfortable making masks optional for all students, noting that staff who wanted to get vaccinated have and that few infections have emerged in the district in recent months.
“People know and believe it to be safe,” he said. “Everywhere they go except school face coverings are optional.”
The Mohonasen resolution sets out a series of “whereas” statements bolstering their argument that the state should allow school districts to set their own masking rules for students both inside and outside. The resolution calls the state’s education-related COVID-19 guidance and policies “inconsistent and arbitrary,” highlights the state and Capital Region’s low infection rates and points to the prevalence of warm temperatures this time of year.
The resolution also argues that Zucker’s June 4 letter created confusion and led “parents and school officials to believe that masks would no longer be required as of June 7, only to learn a short time later that students would have to continue to wear masks.”
With just a few weeks remaining in the school year, the masking requirement has become an increasingly contentious issue as parents organize against the student mask mandates. While the Mohonasen resolution will put the district’s board members squarely on record about how they feel about lifting indoor mask requirements, unless the state moves to change its guidelines, indoor masking requirements will remain in effect in the district for the time being.
“To serve the best interests of our children, the Mohonasen Board of Education petitions the New York State Department of Health to immediately allow K-12 schools to make their own policy decision pertaining to the advisability of requiring masks for their students,” according to the proposed resolution.