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Seaford, Wantagh Schools clarify policies amid mask mandate changes

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After a year of taking precautions like mask wearing and social distancing, many were surprised to learn that fully vaccinated people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, could leave masks at home in most cases.

Amid the news last month, along with the widened eligibility of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for children as young as 12, parents began asking about the policies of their children’s schools. But students, with the last day of school approaching, cannot ditch masks just yet.

Though school districts can lift the state Office of Children and Family Services’ and Department of Health’s requirement of mask use outdoors, students over age 5 must continue to wear masks indoors.

“As you may be aware, Governor Cuomo made an announcement … that all school districts in New York state are required by the [Department of Health] to continue to mandate the use of masks indoors in all school buildings,” Wantagh School District Superintendent John McNamara said. “However, the use of masks outdoors on school grounds is no longer mandated. As a result, students and staff will not be required to wear masks outdoors at all district schools.”

McNamara added that as the weather continues to get warmer, frequent outdoor mask breaks and the use of outdoor spaces for instruction will be encouraged. “Thank you for your continued patience and support as we work through the final days of this challenging school year,” he wrote to district parents, faculty and students.

In the Seaford School District, Superintendent Dr. Adele V. Pecora told district families and faculty that the district would follow guidance set by the state. “Effective immediately, students will be able to remove their masks while they are outside,” Pecora said in a voice message sent out on June 7. “Unfortunately, we were not given permission to discontinue mask wearing inside school.”

Referring to a survey on the matter sent to parents, Pecora emphasized that the state’s decision came as a disappointment to district families.

“The governor shared that the Centers for Disease Control was not comfortable with New York schools removing masks indoors,” Pecora said. “He further stated that he did not want to make a mistake, and the safest course is to keep the masks on for the remainder of the school year.”

Cuomo said that mask-wearing policies would be reconsidered for the fall.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said she believed that Cuomo’s decision added another layer of confusion for parents and school officials. “It’s well past time for this decision to be put in the hands of parents and educators,” she said.

Hempstead Town Councilman Christopher Carini also supported the lifting of mask requirements for students, adding that children “have suffered enough.”

“The time has long passed to end the mask mandates in our school,” Carini wrote on his official Facebook page on May 25. “I call on Governor Cuomo to unmask our kids. As a parent, I say enough is enough.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics currently strongly endorses mask wearing for those who are not fully vaccinated. Face masks can be safely worn, the organization wrote, by children ages 2 and older.