The Locust Valley Central School District Board of Education voted on Tuesday to comply with the New York State Department of Health’s mask mandate, less than 24 hours after board trustees voted to defy it. Board Vice President Margaret Marchand cast the lone dissent on Tuesday, and Trustee Lauren Themis abstained.
Although the meeting was held at 4:30 p.m., when many district residents were still at work, it drew a large crowd. Board President Brian Nolan said he had received a letter that day from state Education Commissioner Dr. Betty Rosa, stating that the State Education Department had gotten word that the Locust Valley district had decided not to adhere to the order that masks be worn by all students while in school this fall. Failure to do so would be breaking the law, Rosa wrote.
“School officers take an oath to obey all legal requirements, not just those which they deem expedient,” the commissioner wrote. “Absent the change in the board’s position . . . the Department of Health and the Nassau County Department of Health will not hesitate to enforce the provisions of the public health law . . . which includes the assessment of civil and criminal penalties.”
A willful violation would result in Nolan’s removal from office, Rosa continued, and the withholding of state aid from the district.
Marchand asked the district’s attorney, Edward McCarthy, if there was someone who could determine when the mask mandate could be repealed. It is currently in effect for 90 days.
“They offer no metric, no date, no science,” Marchand said. “How will the Department of Health operate for the next 90 days, and what happens after that?”
The department can issue an emergency order that the mandate continue, McCarthy said. The decision would be based on the trend of Covid-19 statistics.
“I need for everyone to understand that the DOH gives themselves the authority to renew it,” Marchand said. “The DOH is elected by who?”
During the public portion of Tuesday’s meeting, many residents voiced their displeasure with the board’s decision to change the mask policy. But according to Loretta McGovern, of Bayville, and others, residents who support the mandate have been too afraid to speak at board meetings.
“I was booed when I spoke, and a woman behind me was doing a thumbs down the entire time I spoke,” McGovern said. “Then I was heckled. The board did nothing to stop it.”
McGovern said that the people who have been attending board meetings, and often loudly voicing their points of view, do not speak for families like hers. She has four children, one of whom has medical issues, and they have studied remotely for the past year and a half, amid the coronavirus pandemic. Even with masks now required, McGovern said she would not be sending her children to school in person this week.
“I think parents will send their kids to school unmasked,” she said. “And I’m worried that children will walk up to my children and say that they have to wear a mask because of them. I don’t want this for my family.”
Brady Connor, a senior at Locust Valley High School who was the first to speak during the public session on Tuesday, said he did not understand why, the night before, the district had voted to defy the directive from the state Department of Health that masks be made mandatory.
“No one likes the mask,” Connor said. “I don’t like the mask, but if it it’s what we have to do to be in school to eventually have a normal year, I think it’s worth it. Our student body . . . is split on this issue, but at the end of the day, we want the same things: a fun, great year for everyone and a memorable one for our seniors, and I say memorable for the right reason.”
Some parents said their children would not follow the mandate, confirming McGovern’s fears. Others said they would not pay their school taxes if the district follows policy.
Mike Hogan pointed out that former Gov. Andrew Cuomo had ended New York’s state of emergency in June, and argued that the district had every right to challenge the state. “Why is the state singling out our children, the least vulnerable among us?” he asked. “Why at schools and not shopping malls, stadiums and restaurants? Is this the first steppingstone toward mandatory vaccinations of kids?”
At the board’s regularly scheduled meeting on Monday and the special meeting on Tuesday, some attendees echoed Marchand in complaining that neither Hochul nor Health Department officials were elected.
“The state is responsible for our unified health, not for your individual choice of health,” David Mayloff, of Bayville, said on Tuesday. “That is why health law is made, why it is people with expertise in health policy who are not just appointed, but approved by elected officials, the same way others are appointed in all levels of government. We can’t elect everyone. We don’t elect Supreme Court justices.”
“There are some things we do for the greater good,” Mayloff added. “I sacrifice things daily, because I know if I do the opposite, it may not affect me, but it will affect my community. There’s a pandemic going on.”