School mask mandate lifted Wednesday

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

The school mask mandate will be lifted beginning Wednesday. File photo

GREENVILLE — The statewide school mask mandate that has been in effect since students returned to in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic will be a thing of the past beginning Wednesday.

The mask issue has polarized some families in the Greenville community and led to anti-mandate protests in the district prior to the winter break. Opponents to the mandate and to how the pandemic was being handled in district schools also disrupted a board of education meeting when many parents and community members refused to don face masks, which were required at the time.

Masks were still required in schools and on school buses Monday and Tuesday, but will be optional beginning Wednesday.

“We ask parents and guardians to speak with their child(ren) about personal choice and respect for each other’s personal decisions,” District Superintendent Tammy Sutherland wrote in a letter to families Sunday after the governor’s announcement.

Masks will be optional Wednesday and the decision will be left up to individual families.

“We will not tolerate any bullying of students or staff who choose to continue to wear a mask,” Sutherland said.

The district has followed state guidelines during the pandemic, she added.

“Throughout the pandemic we have relied on guidelines set forth by the State Department of Health and State Education Department in partnership with the county Health Department,” Sutherland said in the letter.

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced at a press briefing Sunday that the statewide school mask mandate would be lifted beginning Wednesday following analysis of COVID-19 data statewide and globally, and after millions of COVID-19 test kits were handed out in schools before winter break.

The decision also came two days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidelines to recommend optional masking for communities where transmission rates of the virus are low or medium.

Tricia Surrano, a parent in the Greenville district, was an avid opponent to the mask mandate in schools and said she was relieved over the state decision.

“New York has been following the science since before COVID was declared a pandemic,” Surrano said. “After the CDC changed its masking recommendations, any conclusion other than optional masking would have revealed a political agenda, so I am not surprised with Gov. Hochul’s announcement. I am ready for our district to focus its energy on the healing of our student community. I am excited for effective communication and education, without masking, for our children. I am also grateful to GCS (Greenville Central Schools) for giving parents the option.”

Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-102, has been a staunch opponent of COVID-19 mandates and said he was happy with the decision, but wants to take things a step further.

Tague introduced legislation in the state Assembly that would prohibit state agencies from mandating the masking of healthy, asymptomatic children in schools, day care facilities and other public settings, he said.

“While this announcement is one that should have been made months ago, I am relieved the day has finally come for students and teachers to see each other’s smiles once again,” Tague said of the mandate. “However, even with this mandate lifted for the moment, I will continue to advocate for the passage of my bill prohibiting the masking of healthy children by state agencies. The only people who should be making personal health decisions for a child are their parents or guardians, and by passing my bill we’ll ensure the governor is never able to mask our kids for months at a time on a whim ever again.”

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