Mask rule remains in RCS schools, state extends mandate


By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

Face masks are still required in the RCS district and in all schools statewide despite conflicting court cases last week. Contributed photo

RAVENA-COEYMANS-SELKIRK — A pair of conflicting court decisions earlier this week left families wondering whether face masks would continue to be required in schools.

Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk District Superintendent Dr. Brian Bailey said Friday the mask rule remains in place in all RCS schools.

Gov. Kathy Hochul extended the face mask mandate Friday as the COVID pandemic continues. Originally set to expire Feb. 1, Hochul extended the mandate to Feb. 10 as the court’s review of the case takes place.

Masks have been required in all schools in New York state since schools returned to in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Masks are considered one component of a tiered response to the pandemic in local schools, along with social distancing, virus testing and quarantining for those testing positive, among others.

On Jan. 24, State Supreme Court Judge Thomas Rademaker struck down the state’s Department of Health emergency regulation that required face masks in all public indoor spaces, including schools, finding the department did not have the authority to enact the rule.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James appealed the ruling and the next day, Jan. 25, the Appellate Court ordered a stay on the lower court’s ruling, reinstating the department’s mask regulation pending further review of the case.

James lauded the stay of the court decision to strike down the mandate.

“Nearly three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, we know that wearing a mask saves lives,” James said. “This mandate and today’s decision are critical in helping to stop the spread of this virus and protect individuals young and old. We will continue to do everything in our power to prioritize the health and well-being of all New Yorkers.”

A final decision has not yet been made — the Appellate Court must still rule on the merits of the case.

Until a final decision has been made, Bailey said the mask rule will continue at all RCS schools.

“The rule remains in effect and the mask mandate remains in place for all schools in New York state until a formal decision is issued by the Appellate judge concerning the conflicting lower court rulings,” Bailey said.

State Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa issued a statement Friday reinforcing the requirement at all schools in the state.

“SED [State Education Department] anticipates that the court will issue a further ruling in the coming weeks,” Rosa said. “Until such time, the mask rule remains in effect. School districts must also abide by any commitment to mask wearing contained in their publicly posted reopening plans for the 2021-2022 school year.”

Hochul announced Friday the mandate requiring face masks in all indoor spaces would be extended to Feb. 10. Positive cases, fueled by the spread of the Omicron variant, are now on a steady downward trend statewide, Hochul said Friday.

“We still don’t know much beyond where we are right now, but the trend is much more positive,” Hochul said.

She announced the extension of the mask mandate in schools and other indoor spaces at a downstate press conference about the impending winter storm. Originally set to expire Feb. 1, Hochul extended the mandate through Feb. 10 and said she would reconsider the mandate every couple of weeks depending on how the pandemic progresses.

Masks would continue to be required in all schools in the state, Hochul said Friday.

“The schools’ masking policy remains in effect despite the fact that there was a little ‘blip,’” Hochul said, referring to the Monday court decision striking down the mandate, “but we are back on track legally and I want to thank our attorney general, Letitia James, and her incredible team for understanding the urgency of us appealing a decision and we will continue to defend that in court.”

Mask requirements help to keep the virus at bay in schools and ensures in-person instruction can continue, Hochul said.

“This is how we can keep our schools open and when kids are safe there, moms and dads can get back to work — we can start on that path to being normal again,” the governor said. “There will come a time when we can talk about lifting this as well. We are just not there yet.”

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