The debate over masking children in schools has intensified in Lynbrook and East Rockaway after County Executive Bruce Blakeman held a news conference on Jan. 3, at which he announced that he signed executive orders directing local boards of education to vote later this month on whether their district should mandate mask use.
The order also lifted the mask mandate for all county agencies and the state’s temporary mask mandate in public places.
The decision netted mixed reviews from local parents, some of whom said they were uncomfortable sending their children to school without face coverings, while others said they believed parents should have the choice of masking their children.
Requests for comment from East Rockaway and Lynbrook school officials were not returned at press time.
Responding to a Herald inquiry on Facebook, Stephanie Brizard said she disagreed with the county executive’s order.
“Blakeman is foolish,” she wrote. “Don’t be surprised if the numbers climb once he removes the mandate. I hope the local school boards select safety and health over politics.”
Vicki Perlman questioned Blakeman’s push to put the onus on school officials to make decisions on masking.
“I believe he is wrong to put this pressure on school boards,” she wrote. “As an ex-trustee, I would rather follow the state guidelines than possibly be responsible for causing heath problems (or worse) by making a poor decision under stress.”
Reached by phone, Lynbrook resident Andrew Lewner lauded school officials for doing all they could to keep Covid-19 numbers down in schools, but said he believed that science shows that children are not as susceptible to getting gravely ill from the virus, and that masking is hard on them mentally. He also noted that he had one child enrolled at Lynbrook High School and another at the elementary level, and he hoped the district would ease up on its mask mandates, and that he led 200 parents in a push to end remote learning in the spring of 2020.
“I think all of the kids are sick and tired of wearing masks,” he said. “It impedes their day-to-day school interactions. The teachers spend an inordinate amount of time asking kids to put their masks up throughout the day. Back in March 2020 when this was new and it was scary and we didn’t know where this was going to go, it made sense to have them wear masks. It’s been two full years of Covid, and in two years we learned a lot.”
On Facebook, Eileen Keane Hynes shared a similar sentiment and said she believed that masking students should be up to each parent.
“If you are worried, wear your mask and take precautions,” she wrote. “If you feel comfortable moving about your life with no masks, then that’s your choice. We need to move on.”
Blakeman’s orders read in part, “[G]iven the historical data on Covid-19 and the ongoing debate over whether masks are more harmful than beneficial to children and to school environments in general, we should protect the freedoms and statutory rights of students and parents by resting with the parents the decision whether their children should wear masks in school.”
School boards must vote “to determine whether or not parents and children should be granted the constitutional right to reject mask mandates while in the classroom.”
In a memo to local school districts, State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa issued a statement in reaction on Jan. 6, saying, “Counties are required to enforce school masking regulations. The regulation, which applies to schools and many other sectors, requires local health departments to enforce school mask mandates.
Blakeman, a Republican, said he was directly opposing an order put in place in early December by Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, requiring mask use in public spaces. The state mandate was originally set to expire in mid-January, but Hochul recently extended it through Feb. 1.
“As governor,” she said Dec. 10, “my two top priorities are to protect the health of New Yorkers and to protect the health of our economy.”
Blakeman’s orders come at a time when Long Island’s Covid positivity rate — the highest in the state — is spiking at more than 25 percent, and a growing number of school districts are reporting increased transmission of the disease, with some, such as Long Beach, being forced to close certain schools because of staffing shortages. Hospitalization rates are rising, as well.