North Shore school districts make masks optional

North Shore school districts make masks optional
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the statewide mask mandate for school districts will be lifted on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of

School districts across the North Shore made masks optional starting Wednesday.

District officials sent out statements following Gov. Kathy Hochul’s announcement on Sunday that the mandate requiring protective face coverings to be worn inside would be lifted Wednesday. Officials from various districts discussed the extensive input they have received from the community and emphasized that students should be respectful of others’ decisions.

“While some individuals will be happy to remove their face masks, others will want to continue wearing them,” Great Neck Superintendent Teresa Prendergast said in a letter to the community. “Regardless of an individual’s choice about masks, please continue to show one another the same level of compassion and respect that our school community has demonstrated since the beginning of this pandemic two years ago.”

“We encourage families to discuss with their children their expectations regarding mask wearing with the understanding that other students, teachers, staff members or administrators may choose differently,” Manhasset’s acting superintendent, Gaurav Passi, said. “Bullying, shaming, or questioning an individual’s decision to wear or not wear a mask will not be tolerated.”

“This spring, we look forward to celebrating with live concerts, school events, live parent teacher conferences (a separate letter on this topic will follow later this week), and other aspects of the school year that have been necessarily put on hold by COVID,” North Shore school district’s Interim superintendent, Tom Dolan, said. “In doing so, we might have an increased appreciation for them as they had been so recently taken away.”

Sewanhaka Superintendent James Grossane said the district’s ventilation will be a top priority for its indoor facilities, especially classrooms.

“This includes, but is not limited to, increased use of ventilation systems, air purification machinery, and opening windows when weather permits,” Grossane said. “All social distancing and cleaning protocols will remain in place, and unvaccinated staff members must continue their weekly testing as they had before.”

The Port Washington school district announced a pre-emptive plan for when the mandate would be lifted that left mask-wearing optional except when riding on school buses, if deemed a close contact to a person with the virus, upon returning to school after a quarantine or isolation for four days, or if the mandate is reinstated by the state.

The masking requirement for buses has also been adopted by most other districts.

Hochul cited continued decreases in new positive coronavirus cases and increased vaccination rates in lifting the mandate.

“Because New Yorkers have stepped up, we can confidently remove the statewide mask requirement in our schools,” Hochul said Sunday. “This is a huge step forward for our kids and communities and I am grateful to the students, educators and parents for their dedication to keeping us all safe – we’ve reached this milestone because of your hard work.”

Her decision to lift the mandate comes more than a month after Justice Thomas Rademaker of State Supreme Court in Nassau County said that Hochul’s mask mandate violated the state Constitution. Following Rademaker’s verdict, Hochul expressed her strong opposition to the decision and said, “we believe this will be settled very shortly.”

The next day, Appellate Judge Robert J. Miller issued a verdict that forced the school districts that chose to make mask-wearing optional to go back to following Hochul’s guidelines. After the decision to suspend Rademaker’s decision, Hochul touted the need to prioritize the health and well-being of all New Yorkers. 

Now, with the mandate officially lifted by Hochul, officials lauded her for prioritizing the health and well-being of students, staff, parents and stakeholders in districts throughout the state.

“We continue to urge all New Yorkers to get vaccinated and get boosted, and we will work with our partners in education statewide to ensure our schools, teachers, and students have the support they need to keep our classrooms healthy and safe,” state Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said.

“I thank the Governor for her leadership. Working together we look forward to keeping our schools safe for students and educators,” state Education Commissioner Betty Rosa said.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, who signed an executive order in January aimed at ending the mandate for Nassau’s school districts, said Hochul’s decision to lift the requirement is “too little, too late.”

“I am happy that parents will soon have the power to decide what is best for their kids, and our students will finally be able to return to normal and see the smiling faces of their friends again,” he said in a statement.

Since the beginning of the school year, nearly 1,400 coronavirus cases have been reported in the Port Washington school district, the most in the area as of Sunday, the most up-to-date statistics. Following those figures are the 737 in the Mineola school district, 671 in the Great Neck school district, 652 in the North Shore school district, 577 reported in the Herricks school district, 458 in the Manhasset school district, 404 in the East Williston school district, 378 in the New Hyde Park-Garden City Park school district, 373 in the Floral-Park Bellerose school district and 315 in the Roslyn school district.

The Great Neck school district saw 27 new cases on Sunday following the mid-winter break, the most for any district on the North Shore. A total of 10 new cases were reported at the Mineola school district, eight at the Port Washington school district, six at the North Shore school district and the Manhasset school district and one at the New Hyde Park-Garden City Park school district.

According to the state’s Department of Health, 98 Nassau residents tested positive for the virus on Sunday, with a rolling seven-day average of 2 percent. A total of 3,922 people were tested on Sunday.

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