The North Shore School District released its reopening plan on Tuesday, hours after Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that she would institute a mask mandate for students at all schools in the state, and require staff to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or tested weekly.
In a statement on Tuesday, North Shore Interim Superintendent Thomas Dolan laid out the district’s reopening plan, which included the mask requirement for students, faculty and staff as well as social distancing of three feet between students while they are indoors.
“The start of the school year is upon us, and it is not the opening of school we would have hoped for, or that I predicted only two months ago,” Dolan’s statement read. “A public health crisis still exists, and our plans for opening will need to be modified in order to promote live instruction in a safe and sustainable way.”
The district weighed community input, extensive email communication from district residents and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the State Education Department and the Nassau County Department of Health when deciding on coronavirus protocols for the school year.
In the early days of the pandemic, when most schools offered only remote learning, few children were hospitalized with Covid-19, but the situation has changed with the spread of the virus’s highly contagious Delta variant. The Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine earlier this week applies to those ages 16 and older. The vaccine still has emergency use authorization for 12- to 15-year-olds, and the vast majority of experts agree it is safe. Children younger than 12, however, still cannot get the vaccine.
In her address on Tuesday, Hochul called the mask rules and the new vaccine requirements for educators part of an effort to curb the outbreak fueled by the Delta variant. “None of us want a rerun of last year’s horrors,” she said.
North Shore District administrators made sure that social and emotional support for students would be an integral part of the reopening plan. The measures they laid out include the hiring of additional social workers, and the implementation of a new program called RULER, an acronym for the five skills of emotional intelligence — recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing and regulating — in the elementary buildings.
Although the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the doctors and epidemiologists in the state Department of Health have all said that requiring masks in schools will slow the spread of the virus, discussions at school board meetings and on social media of whether they should be mandated have grown heated in recent weeks, with many parents insisting that they should have a say in school policy.
“Our children are not a threat to you or anyone else,” a North Shore parent wrote in response to a Facebook post discussing mandatory masking. “Whether or not a child wears a mask, gets a vaccine or any other health related decisions should be up to the individual family.”
“My family has not and will not live in fear,” another parent wrote. “For those that feel the risk is too much, they should stay home and stay masked but the rest of us moved on a long time ago!”
Others say they are relieved that the district has adopted a mandatory masking policy, because they knowing their children will be safe when they returning to in-person instruction. “Parents without professional credentials in science and medicine should not have jurisdiction over matters of public health,” wrote one Facebook user. “In times of community-wide hazards and dangers (such as a viral pandemic), we should follow our government’s directives … the health of an entire community is more important than one person’s inconvenience.”