By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
CATSKILL —The Greene County Legislature penned a letter to the state Wednesday requesting the lifting of the school mask mandate that has drawn escalating opposition in some local districts.
Parents and students in several communities, including Greenville and Coxsackie-Athens, have voiced vocal opposition to the mandate enacted under executive order initially by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and then extended by Gov. Kathy Hochul at the start of the current school year.
The letter from Greene County Legislature Vice Chairman Matthew Luvera, R-Catskill, addressed to the governor, also asked for relief from ongoing COVID-19 testing mandates for unvaccinated school staff.
“The mask mandate, which began during your predecessor’s reign, has gone on for far too long and has interfered and severely affected the lives of our youngest and most innocent residents, our children,” according to the letter. “We firmly believe that mask-wearing for this length of time can cause physical, psychological and developmental harm which may outweigh any remaining benefits to mask wearing.”
The letter is signed by “Matthew Luvera, Vice-Chairman, on behalf of the entire Greene County Legislature.”
The letter requests an “urgent end” to the mask and testing mandates.
Face masks interfere with the students’ education, according to the letter.
“… Masks hinder necessary communication between students and teachers, bus drivers and other students,” according to the letter. “How are children supposed to learn academics from their teachers and socially interact with their peers without being able to hear their words clearly or see their facial expressions? As much as masks are touted to be a health and safety issue, where is the safety when a child is crossing a road, in a rural county such as ours, and cannot hear the bus driver’s instructions?”
School districts across the county have approached legislators asking for relief from the COVID mandates, according to Luvera’s letter.
Greenville students and parents have been staging protests this week opposing the mask mandate and on Wednesday went to the Legislature to ask for support.
Hochul lifted the mask mandate for most indoor businesses effective Feb. 10, but said at that time the requirement would remain in place for schools and would be re-evaluated in early March after students and staff return from winter break. The governor is expected to announce a decision March 4.
“This pandemic is not over and that is why we are going to maintain protections for people in vulnerable places where people are very concentrated,” Hochul said at the time.
In addition to schools, masks are still required at health care facilities, adult-care facilities, nursing homes, correctional facilities, childcare centers, homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters and on public transportation, including buses, trains, subways, airplanes and airports.
Hochul said the mask mandate in schools will be re-evaluated after test kits are handed out to families so when school reopens after the break they can test their students and retest three days later to ensure they are not infected with COVID-19. The state will also analyze factors including hospitalizations and infection rates, along with what is occurring globally with regard to the virus before making a decision, Hochul said.