ALBANY, NY (WENY) – While businesses across New York State can drop masks starting February 10th, it’s not the same for schools.
Governor Kathy Hochul says her top priority is to keep kids safe in and out of the classroom. She announced Wednesday morning how mask mandates in schools and daycare settings would remain in effect. Hochul laid out what needs to happen before masks come off in the classroom.
“We have to get our children back in schools,” Hochul said. “We decided that the safest way for the students, the teachers, the administrators, everyone who’s part of that system, the safest way to return to school was to have a mask requirement.”
Keeping the schools open is another priority of Hochul’s, saying online learning negatively impacted students’ well-being, damaging students’ mental health state-wide. She feels starting the healing process in person is important in returning to normalcy.
“We value our kids,” Hochul said. “We value education, and I say we have to make sure our schools are open.”
Students will be sent home for mid-winter break with COVID-19 self-test kits. They’ll receive another test when they return from break at the end of February. State officials hope this will help track the potential spread of COVID in schools.
“Getting them out to schools, getting them to parents, getting them in the hands of people that can find out whether a child is positive before they come back and that’s how we stop the spread,” Hochul said. “After this break, parents will have test kits for their children. We want them to test.”
The state will observe COVID-19 data, including vaccination rates and pediatric hospitalization through early March to assess whether the mask mandate in schools can be lifted at that time.
Local school officials responded to Governor Hochul’s address this morning. In a letter to the governor’s office written on February 8th, Greater Southern Tier BOCES Chairperson, and Horseheads Central School District Superintendent Dr. Thomas Douglas was among those who was supportive of the state’s efforts.
“We would like to thank you for the changes you have already made to the state’s procedures, allowing more students to remain in school each day and for the millions of antigen tests you have made available to schools across our state,” Douglas said. “In doing so, this allows us to continue to work with families, keep sick children home, and to provide families with the necessary resources to make informed decisions about children who are symptomatic.”
However, the letter also asks the state to avoid having differing masking rules for the public, as well as schools. With the mask mandate being lifted for indoor businesses, where students and their families will no longer have to wear masks, it creates confusion for individuals, as well as an additional burden on schools to continue mandatory masking.