Governor Cathy Hochhol said Thursday that the state is “looking at our options” for what to do about Long Island school district leaders who are said to be defying the governor’s mandate that students and staff wear masks indoors, even though teachers in many areas said their schools are being closed. Execute the command.
Asked by Newsday about which school district it doesn’t comply, she said, “We’ve been so focused on keeping kids in school. It’s very disappointing, and we’re looking at our options.” “I’m just going to say that. I’m not going to stay here what our plans are. But I take this very seriously, and I think these school districts have a responsibility to follow what has been outlined.”
“It’s a well-thought-out strategy and policy, and the state Department of Education will be in touch with them,” she added.
The governor was asked about the issue at an unrelated event after Newsday reported that according to a school psychologist and the head of the local teachers’ union, most students at Connetquot High School wear masks below their nose or chin — or not at all.
Dr. Brad Lindell of Connetquot High School described the situation as “out of control”, while Connetquote Teachers Association President Tony Felicio said he has sent several letters to school authorities since September complaining about widespread violations of the mask’s mandate in the area.
On Thursday, the governor did not respond to a follow-up question asking if it would cut funding for areas that have enforcement issues.
Later Thursday, her office referred further questions to the state’s Department of Education, which said in a statement that it had investigated Connet’s teachers’ allegations and found no benefit to them.
“We expect all schools to follow the law. The department has asked the BOCES district director to contact district officials, who have denied the charges in the article. Other than that, we have no information that the district does not follow and do not apply the Department of Health’s concealment requirements,” the department said.
“Taking the district’s word is absurd,” said Felicio, and that the union has documents going back months that show there is a problem.
“If they really cared about the health and safety of staff and students, someone would have come down to see for themselves,” said Felicio.
Lindell said there should be a “more thorough investigation than just asking those who are in violation of the mandate if they are. This is not a way to collect data to make a decision. In my opinion, the state just wants to remove this, and they’re on the gigs.”
Connetquot School officials said in comments Wednesday that they are implementing the mandate.
“Throughout the pandemic, the district has worked to enforce all state mandates within an educational environment,” the district said. “We have followed the directions of health officials and consistently communicated these guidelines to students, teachers, staff and the community. Our building administrators ensure that these protocols are implemented on a daily basis in order to support the well-being of our schools.”
Lindell this week sent a letter to the Board of Education presenting his complaint, accusing some school board members of ignoring the mandate due to a “political agenda.” Felicio said the area is giving in to “anti-mask” parents by refusing to comply with the mandate.
Lindell is now sick with COVID-19, and it is believed that he contracted it at school.
The Connetquot School Board, in a statement on Wednesday, said: “As the governing body for a school district, the council’s role is to support policies set by local and state officials. In this capacity, we have approved and authorized all Covid-19 health and safety procedures within our schools.”
Hochul previously said the state Department of Education can withhold funds from school districts if they ignore the mask mandate. She made the statement earlier this month after the new Nassau County Executive, Bruce Blackman, issued an order saying that local school districts do not have to comply with the mandate.
At Thursday’s press conference, Hochul said, “We have been very strong in our statement that we understand the frustration. But the truth is, these masks are keeping people safe and alive, which is why we can let our children in school, and other parts of our country, be isolated The children are home again.”
Teachers and union leaders in other regions said Thursday that the mandate is being implemented in their schools.
Nakia Wolf, president of the Amityville Teachers’ Union, said there are daily reminders to staff and students of the importance of wearing masks. He said the region remains vigilant about the mandate.
“We’re reinforcing it every day. It’s something we take very seriously,” said Wolf, who also provides educational support for students struggling with math.
Wolf said the reminders follow daily announcements and an oath of allegiance. He said they are asking students to make sure masks cover mouths and noses.
“Kids often get reminders about the mandate of the mask and why we need to follow it,” he said.
Cordelia Anthony, science teacher and president of the Farmingdale Teachers Union, said the district takes the mandate very seriously.
“It’s definitely being applied here in Farmingdale,” Anthony said.
She said the Board of Education sent a letter to staff and the community this week saying the district will continue to enforce this requirement.
“Administrators made announcements earlier this month to remind students that the policy is in place,” she said.
She said officials are concerned about the possibility of some regression due to the holiday break and Blackman’s order. So they have released additional announcements to remind everyone.
Brandi Scott, president of the Long Island Black Educators Association, said she feels that Long Island school districts are generally sticking to the mask mandate.
“I think teachers very, very strongly encourage parents and students to stick to the guidelines,” Scott said. “They provide information on an ongoing basis.”
“They want to stay open, and masks are the key to doing that,” she added.
Scott said that even areas where a large portion of people opposed the mask mandate, such as Smithtown, are obeying it.
Richard Haas, an English teacher at Candlewood Middle School in Dix Hills and president of the district teachers’ union, said he sees his school district sticking to the mask mandate.
“We still expect everyone to wear masks and follow the guidelines to keep us safe,” he said.
Sometimes students slack off keeping the masks in the right way, causing them to fall flat on their faces. Haas said he has developed a gesture — moving his finger up and down in front of his nose — that students recognize as a reminder to take off their masks.
“We don’t have much of a blatant rejection,” he said.
The Omicron rush has continued to show signs that it is on the decline, according to the COVID-19 Indicators released Thursday, although case numbers and levels of positivity remain relatively high.
Across the state, 185 people died Wednesday of causes related to the virus, including 24 in Suffolk and 11 in Nassau.
The seven-day average for test positivity has fallen to 15.51% in Long Island, down from 17.60% two days ago. The statewide average is down to 13.30% from 15.04% two days ago.
The number of new daily cases reached 2,056 in Suffolk, 1,847 in Nassau, and 30,631 statewide. These numbers were well below the records set earlier this month, but also well above the lows of last May and June.
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