Locust Valley BOE votes to defy mask-wearing mandate

Superintendent Graham warns of fines and possible closure of schools


The members of the Locust Valley School Board voted unanimously last night to defy a mask mandate by Gov. Kathy Hochul and the New York State Health Department, opting to hire a law firm to litigate the matter. Roughly 60 people attended the meeting, of which some spoke during the public session to voice their dissatisfaction with the masking mandate. Some said they would not adhere to it and that the board should support those who put them in office.

The meeting had been delayed for an hour and 25 minutes while the board contemplated the mask mandate behind closed doors during an executive session. After listening to several parents during a public session, there was a vote on a motion to consider adhering to the mask mandate. Vice President Margaret Marchand opposed the motion, President Brian Nolan and Lauren Themis abstained, and John Del Tatto Jr., George Vasiliou and Joseph Zito voted in favor. Then the board unanimously voted to defy the mask mandate and hire legal counsel. Board member Shawn Steele did not attend the meeting.

Jesse Firestone, a parent, called the mandate “child abuse,” adding a chiding rebuke to those in the room that were wearing a mask, though he said he was at the meeting “for choice.”

The emotions in the room among residents flucuated from frustration and anger to, at times, hostility.

Although most of the parents who spoke lived in Bayville, one mother of two young children was from Lattingtown. She spoke twice during the evening voicing her opposition to wearing masks in school. “They are already covering your mouth,” she said. “Do not let them cover your brain.”

Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Graham, who had said in the past that he supported mask wearing for staff and children, said it was his duty to inform the board that the vote was a violation of law and could lead to fines and the possible closure of the district’s schools.

This caused several parents to disparage Graham, adding that he was hired by the district. More than one accused Graham of being disinterested in the public’s comments at the meeting and suggested that he "work on his resume."

An advisory was posted on the website later that evening. “… Following the board meeting, we were advised by legal counsel that the failure to adhere to the requirement that masks be required to be worn in school is a violation of the law. In light of our consultation with legal counsel, the board will be reconvening for a regular meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, Aug. 31, at 4:30 p.m. … to discuss this matter further and make an additional determination concerning this requirement.”

More to follow.