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Public schools in New York dropping the masks Wednesday

Masks to help protect from COVID-19
Courtesy of the Town of Ramapo

After Governor Kathy Hochul announced that the statewide mask requirement in schools will be lifted on Wednesday, districts are getting ready.

For the first time in almost two years, New Yorkers are able to take off their face masks if they so desire. Over the weekend, Governor Hochul announced beginning Wednesday, the mask mandate in schools will be lifted.

“Also, this is up to parents," Hochul said. "Individual parents have their own knowledge of their children, they know their own children's health, they know their tolerance for the mask. They know whether, for them, if they've got an underlying health condition that they would want to keep the mask on. But again, this is about what the parents now want to do beginning Wednesday with respect to their children's health.”

Karen Seery, Public Information Specialist for the Kingston City School District, says they expect to still have students wearing masks and encourage everyone to stay within their own comfort zone.

“So we're going to start tomorrow, we're going to what we're calling ‘mask optional.’ We do have many students who we probably will see continue to wear masks for whatever their personal or family reason is," said Seery. "And we're expecting that. You know, one of the things we are going to tell our students as we there, we will have zero tolerance for any harassment or bullying of anyone for whatever decision they make. “

Many schools have posted policy changes online. In Albany County, Voorheesville Central School District says "Starting Wednesday, students, school staff and visitors will no longer be required to wear face coverings or masks in any of our school buildings or on school buses. Mask wearing will continue to be optional... Any person on campus may wear a mask at any time."

Voorheesville's policy closely follows the governor's guidance. Again, Hochul.

“If people want to continue wearing masks, they’re allow to be continued wearing masks, and I don't want any issues related to that," said Hochul. "And I want to be very clear on that. We will not stand for any bullying or ostracization or harassment of an individual or a business or anyone who chooses to wear a mask, as we're still going through this. And we are going to remain vigilant. We are going to continue distributing masks. We're gonna continue distributing test kits, we're going to continue aggressive vaccination strategies, making sure that there's plenty of opportunity for anyone, including our students to be vaccinated and boosted.”

In Schenectady, Superintendent of Schools Anibal Soler says reaction from parents has been mixed.

"So we've got some folks that have been complimentary, parents have reached out to us and sent us emails saying, 'Oh, my God, my kids are excited, I can't wait.' Soler said "We have some people who are still going to be probably a little bit hesitant and resistant in terms of the change. And you know, the good thing here is that it's optional, right? So there's nothing saying that you can't wear the mask, right? There's nothing saying that you, you know will be forced to, like not wear a mask? You can. It's completely up to the individual now. And I think that's what many of us have been asking for is to have some of that freedom. So we're looking forward to that."

New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta welcomes "this step toward normalcy."

“And through discussions with the governor, we feel she is striking the right balance by empowering local officials to use the data that they have to determine if and when the mitigation strategies need to change," Palotta said. "So that includes masking. And as the guidance changes, we just say this: districts need to work closely with educators to ensure that everyone is confident in the new plan. So I think we're in a good place, we're moving, right, and we see the infection rates far down from where they were. And for those who don't want to remove the mask, absolutely they should keep the mask on and everyone needs to respect their choice.”

Masking requirements remain in effect for public transportation, nursing homes, adult care facilities, correctional facilities, some health care facilities and homeless shelters.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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