HORSEHEADS, N.Y. (WETM) — As the new school year approaches, education groups are calling for stricter mask mandates when it comes to indoor, in-person instruction.
The Horseheads Teachers’ Association announced Friday it supports New York State United Teachers’ call to make masks mandatory at all times in schools:
The Horseheads Teachers’ Association is in strong support of NYSUT’s initiative to mandate the wearing of masks at all times while in our classrooms. With the reopening of schools fast upon us, we are appreciative of the efforts made by the Horseheads Central School District to go above and beyond the state requirements during this global pandemic. We simply request that stakeholders at the state and local levels remember and continue to make decisions that are grounded in the health and safety of the students, staff and the communities that we serve.
We fully appreciate that this is a very stressful and uncertain time for everyone. We thank the Horseheads community and families for their continued support in ensuring the health, safety and education of our students. We are also in support of fellow educators that have taken a stand to ensure the well-being of all across the state and are hopeful that the steps taken by the Horseheads Central School District will allow us to avoid having to consider a completely remote learning environment.
Current state guidelines mandate both students and staff to wear masks indoors when social distancing is not possible and ‘strongly recommend’ masks be worn at all times.
“While the state guidelines were drafted with the best intentions and with the best information available at the time, they need to be updated and clarified immediately,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta.
The NYSUT sent a letter to the New York State Department of Health Thursday to instead make mask-wearing mandatory indoors, regardless of whether people are six feet apart. They say this is not only for safety, but to reassure parents and teachers that going back to school is safe. NYSUT’s proposed plan would allow exceptions for medical accommodation, with “mask breaks” for kids.
“We take a class to the outside area and we let them breathe in some fresh air, socially distant from each other, so it gives them a little bit of a break,” Pallotta said. “It is really necessary. We support it.”
The union also cited a recent change in Pennsylvania guidance to make the use of masks mandatory at all times during the school day.
“Unfortunately, as the beginning of the school year nears and districts continue working out their reopening plans with parents and teachers, we are seeing disparate mask policies that are not leaving parents or educators confident in the safety of their district’s plans,” the letter states. “In reviewing individual reopening plans with educators in the field, it’s clear that numerous plans do not go far enough in their mask mandates to ensure the safety of students and educators.”
A spokesperson from the DOH said they are reviewing the plan now—adding it is up to the responsible parties to decide whether it is best to wear a mask or not, and recommend they be worn at all times in areas with higher rates of community spread.