Rockville Centre parents offer mixed reaction on in-school mask mandates

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Rockville Centre School District officials recently announced that all students will be required to wear masks indoors and on buses at the start of the school year — a decision that has been met with mixed reactions from parents.

In a letter to the community on Aug. 12, Superintendent June Chang wrote that administrators were awaiting updated reopening guidelines from the State Education Department before finalizing a return-to-school plan. However, Chang added, a reopening committee recently met to discuss the best, and safest, ways for students to return to school amid the threat of the coronavirus’s Delta variant and rising Covid-19 numbers across the county.

The committee determined that all students must wear face coverings inside, but will not have to do so outdoors, citing the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“The decision to require masks indoors and on buses for everyone is based on expert medical recommendations endorsed by the CDC and AAP,” Chang wrote. “Both organizations strongly recommend universal mask wearing in schools regardless of vaccination status.”

Chang, who announced his resignation after the letter, did not return a request for comment, while Board of Education President John O’Shea said the mask mandate would remain a priority until more guidance is given from health experts.

In addition to the mask mandate, all activities and classes will be conducted in-person, and remote learning will no longer be offered, though special cases could lead to some home-schooling. Barriers will be removed from all buildings, and temperature checks and screenings will not be conducted at school. Deep cleaning measures will continue, Chang wrote, while contact tracing and quarantining of students or staff will follow Nassau County Department of Health guidelines, and all positive Covid-19 cases will be reported to the Health Department.

Laura Vaccaro Seeger, who represents the Rockville Centre Democratic Club, said she was among the parents who were in favor of the mask mandate, and believed it could be used as a teaching tool for children.

“I find it so disappointing that we’re missing a terrific opportunity to teach and show our children what it means to have empathy,” Vaccaro Seeger said, “and to do something uncomfortable in order to protect the children, teachers and staff, as well as the community at large.”

Kristin Schwab, a physician with a 6-year-old son who will start first grade at William S. Covert Elementary School next month, said she was “100 percent in favor of masks,” noting that there is a higher case positivity rate than there was at this time last year, and that the variant is more contagious.

“Masks are a proven measure to help mitigate the spread of Covid-19,” Schwab said. “My son has no problem wearing his mask to keep himself and those around him safe.”

She added that she works with Covid-19 patients, that children are getting sicker because of the transmissibility of the Delta variant, and that proper precautions need to be taken until people of all ages are eligible to receive vaccines.

“As a physician, I can tell you that being hospitalized and poked and prodded has far worse repercussions for children than wearing a mask,” Schwab said.

Kathleen Ferrari said she has a daughter in middle school who is scheduled to be inoculated, and another daughter in elementary school who is not eligible, and she believed that masking students was the correct decision. “As a parent of an elementary-age child who is not yet old enough to be vaccinated, it gives me some comfort to know that she will be protected,” Ferrari said. “I think people are making far too much of an issue with wearing masks. I’d be more upset if my kid had to do virtual schooling again and couldn’t co-mingle with other kids on the playground.”

But Brian Piccola had a different opinion. He and his wife have lived in the village for 20 years, and raised two daughters who will attend South Side High School this fall, he said, and he was “furious” about the mask mandate.

“There is zero, literally zero, science and data at this point to support this mandate,” Piccola said. “. . . It was proven last year beyond any reasonable doubt that schools were not the super spreaders all these ridiculous experts thought they were going to be. Covid poses almost no risk to children and teenagers. Mask wearing should be optional, plain and simple.”

Anthony Pizziatolla offered a similar sentiment. He said his child was starting second grade, and he favored having a choice when it comes to facial coverings. “Making masks optional would have been the right decision,” he said. “Those parents who want to mask their kids would have the option to do so, while allowing us who do not the option as well.”

In his letter, Chang wrote that information is rapidly evolving, and that the administration would update the community as needed. “Please also note that Long Island and Nassau County are currently at substantial infection rates, and the Covid-19 delta variant is highly contagious,” he wrote. “In the current climate, it is vital to follow expert medical guidance to ensure the safety and well-being of our students and staff.”

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