Capital Region

Some school districts set mask mandates, others still debating

Fifth grade student Jaelyn LaPlante, 10, decorates her fresh “back-up” mask for her desks at Yates Elementary in September 2020.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Fifth grade student Jaelyn LaPlante, 10, decorates her fresh “back-up” mask for her desks at Yates Elementary in September 2020.

With the new school year set to begin in just a couple of weeks, many districts have mandated masks for everyone. However, some are still deciding, while others are waiting to see what incoming Gov. Kathy Hochul will do. 

Hochul has already indicated her support for masks and getting people vaccinated. 

“The Lieutenant Governor has said that as soon as she becomes governor, she will be working with the Department of Health to require masks in schools to help increase the safety of students, teachers and staff,” said Haley Viccaro, a spokesperson for Hochul. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended masks indoors in municiaplities with high levels of transmission, which almost all of the area’s school districts fall into. 

Many parents across the area’s school districts have headed to school board meetings to debate what they felt was best for their children. Just last week, parents spoke for and against mask wearing during meetings at both Shenendehowa and Fort Plain central school districts. Shenendehowa implemented measures for mask wearing and while Fort Plain hasn’t issued its guidance yet, Superintendent Jeffrey Ziegler made it clear he would recommend masking in schools. 

Some of the other districts that have instituted mask guidelines include Niskayuna School District, Schenectady City School District, Schalmont Central School District and Saratoga Springs City School District. Gloversville Central School District also reversed course from its initial statement of leaving mask wearing up to parents. In a letter Thursday to parents on the district’s website, the district states that it expects Hochul will implement “universal masking across New York state.” The school district said it expected to enforce masking in schools due to Fulton County’s high transmission level.

“I know this is disappointing to some, but we feel it is congruent with our priorities to keep our schools open and mitigate the spread of the virus in our community,” the letter states. “If transmission rates in our region decline in the future to “low” or “moderate” levels, the district administration and Board of Education are certainly receptive to parents, students and staff using their own discretion in the wearing of masks in the school building if physically distanced 3 feet or more.  With that said, if the state government mandates masks, as we think they will, local discretion will be lost until they determine otherwise.” 

However, not all the districts are following the same protocols. For instance, Schalmont and Saratoga Springs have no requirements to wear masks outside of school facilities. In contrast, Niskayuna will require the masks both indoors and outdoors where 3 feet social distancing cannot be maintained. 

“We know that there are those who do not agree and others who are appreciative that this precaution will be in place,” said Matt Leon, the district’s spokesperson in an email Friday. “Our message to the community is that we are going to stick with the health and safety measures that are recommended by public health experts, including the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics. We also know that conditions are likely to change throughout the year and that adjustments to many areas of our plan are possible as time goes on.”

Other districts, such as Mohonasen Central School District and the Greater Amsterdam School District, have not made their decisions yet. 

Mohonasen Superintendent Shannon Shine said the school board met last Monday for a record five and half hours, mainly getting input on whether to require masks. 

“While we do know some aspects of our plan, such that all students and adults must wear face coverings on school buses, it has not yet been determined whether there will be a requirement when students are seated and socially distanced at 3 feet in classrooms,” Shine said in an emailed statement Friday. “We have scheduled a special meeting of the Board of Education for Monday the 30th.”

Shine said he is anticipating Hochul will issue a state-wide mask mandate for schools. 

“By making our meeting on the 30th, this allows time for that to happen if it is going to occur,” he said. “If it does not occur, then the Board of Education will make a binding decision on the 30th.”

Amsterdam will hold a special school board meeting on Aug. 27 to discuss its reopening plans. 

“The district has been working closely with the Montgomery County Department of Health monitoring the need for mask wearing in school as it relates to regional COVID-19 infection rates,” said Superintendent Richard Ruberti on the school’s website. “This situation is fluid and discussions continue. It is anticipated that when Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul assumes the office of Governor next week, we will receive further guidance from the state concerning the need to wear masks. We will continue to keep you posted as the situation evolves.”

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News, Saratoga County, Schenectady County

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