New York Democratic officials, including Governor Kathy Hochul, have criticized the executive order of Nassau County Bruce Blakeman, which allows school districts to choose whether or not to apply a mask warrant to their students.
The order, signed by Blakeman on Thursday, goes against Hochul’s mandate, which went into effect on August 27. The mandate requires that students wear masks at school.
Blakeman, in a subsequent statement, touted the importance of providing “personal decision-making to families and normalcy to students.”
“Fortunately, the children are not hospitalized and do not face serious illness despite the increase in cases. If families want masks, we support them, ”said Blakeman. “And if they don’t, we have to support them as well.”
Blakeman’s order includes directing the county emergency management office to make masks available to every public and private school in Nassau for teachers, custodians, staff and administration so that schools no do not have to close.
Hochul, at a press conference Thursday in New York City, called Blakeman’s executive order an attempt “to assert his authority over what has already been declared a public health emergency.”
Jay Jacobs, chairman of the State and Nassau Democratic Party, said Blakeman’s order would likely result in more school districts being closed for in-person education with the growing number of coronavirus cases in Long Island. Jacobs said the executive order is an example of how “elections have consequences.”
“Bruce Blakeman’s refusal to comply with the law requiring the wearing of masks in schools seriously endangers children, teachers and the most vulnerable in our population,” Jacobs said in a statement. “This politically motivated directive will make school closings more likely, leaving middle and working class families unable to work or forcing them to pay for child care. The terms of school masks must end, but now is not the time. “
Senator Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills), Senator Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), MP Chuck Lavine, MP Gina Sillitti and six other Democratic officials from Long Island also criticized Blakeman’s executive order that goes to the against the state mask mandate in a joint statement on Friday.
Officials reflected on the 3,400 residents of Nassau County who died from coronavirus, noted increase in pediatric hospitalizations, and said going against Hochul’s order “would be the height of irresponsibility “.
“We are confident that the Nassau County school districts will continue to act responsibly in the coming days as they have had no input into the actions of the county executive,” officials said. “For the sake of our children, teachers and school staff, the Blakeman County executive must immediately reverse its irresponsible and clearly illegal decree.
Blakeman’s order won the backing of Nassau County Health Commissioner Lawrence Eisenstein, according to Newsday.
Eisenstein supported the decision to leave the decision to mask students to each school district and noted questions about the effectiveness of the masks against the omicron variant.
“You start to see with omicron that there are questions about which level of masking is better than the other levels,” Eisenstein told Newsday. “So we are waiting for clearer science.”
Efforts to reach Eisenstein for further comment were unsuccessful.
Hochul said she and newly elected New York Mayor Eric Adams both believe students should physically attend school, but stressed the need to do so safely.
“People who have more experience in county government would know that state government, state laws prevail,” Hochul said. There is also the issue of the state education ministry, which directly controls the funding of schools. I hope I don’t need to say more about this topic.
Betty A. Rosa, the state’s education department commissioner, released a statement saying the department expects local school boards to rely on state directives rather than the order of the county.
“Counties do not have the legal authority to require school boards to vote on specific issues,” Rosa said in a statement. “School officers take an oath to obey all legal requirements. The state’s Department of Education expects school boards to meet all legal requirements, including the face covering regulations. “
Andy Pallotta, president of the New York State United Teachers, said the 600,000-member union supports Hochul’s mask-wearing mandate.
“It is incredible that almost two years after the start of the pandemic, we have to debate the critical importance of wearing masks as part of a strategy to mitigate COVID-19 in diapers in schools,” he said Pallotta said in a statement. “Especially given the current spike in cases, now is not the time to end the wearing of masks in schools. Public health experts have been unequivocal that masks are an important part of strategies designed to keep students, educators and our communities safe. And the governor made it clear this afternoon that state law prevails in this matter. We continue to support the state mask guidelines for schools and call on all districts to continue to follow these guidelines. “
Garuav Passi, acting superintendent of the Manhasset school district, said Rosa had told school district officials who were briefed statewide that the mask mandate must be enforced, much to the chagrin of some parents in attendance.
“The New York State Education Commissioner told us we don’t have an option, we have to uphold the mask’s mandate,” Passi said at a public meeting Thursday night. “Masks are mandatory in our schools and we intend to uphold the mask mandate by asking students to wear their masks, with respect. If they don’t, then they are not in compliance with the school rules.