WATERTOWN — After nothing seemed to come of asking state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to make mask wearing mandatory in schools, except for appropriate break periods and accommodating medical needs, New York State United Teachers is now saying that in the absence of statewide action, county governments should mandate such a policy for school districts within their jurisdictions.
The current mandate for masking is that they be worn when 6-foot distancing can’t be maintained, like when students are passing through hallways.
NYSUT’s Aug. 27 letter, sent along with the American Federation of Teachers, stated that with districts continuing to work out their reopening plans, the union was seeing disparate mask policies that were not leaving parents or educators confident in the safety of their district’s plans. It continued to say that numerous plans did not go far enough in their mask policies to ensure the safety of students and educators.
“We understand that there are some students who may need a medical accommodation because they can’t wear a mask at all times, just as removing a mask to eat or to take a designated mask break is appropriate,” the letter read. “But mandating the use of masks at all other times should be a non-negotiable condition of reopening a school building.”
Later in the letter, it was stated that science shows that the current required screenings for temperature and symptoms are not wholly sufficient in capturing potential sources of contagion. The union also cited recent guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics that recommends the universal use of face coverings, as well as a recent change in Pennsylvania guidance to make the use of masks mandatory at all times during the school day.
On Friday, having not seen any changes in masking policies since its letter, and after Orange County took the step Thursday, with the county’s Health Commissioner Dr. Irina Gelman issuing a public health order requiring masks be worn in congregate school settings within the county, NYSUT issued a statement calling for other county governments to do the same.
“While some school districts are doing the right thing and requiring masks at all times, we still are seeing others who refuse to take this basic step to protect the health of students, staff and families,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said in a statement.
“Orange County is taking a lead role in helping address the reservations that exist regarding reopening school buildings. We believe other county leaders should follow suit and address the concerns we’re still hearing from educators and parents.”