The local school districts, including Patchogue-Medford, South Country and William Floyd, are up in the air when it comes to requiring masks in school. All the while, COVID numbers from the Delta variant have been surging nationwide, with a total of over 300 new cases per day based off of a seven-day average.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that masks should be required of everyone inside K-12 schools. The New York State Education Department has also issued guidance, stating schools should follow CDC guidance, which recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status and community transmission levels.
The guidance also recommends that schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms, combined with indoor mask-wearing, to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
Patchogue-Medford Schools responded but was not ready to comment as of press time. Also, a meeting on the matter has not yet been scheduled.
Superintendent Dr. Joseph Giani released a letter dated August, stating that he had hoped to receive guidance regarding the reopening of schools this fall.
“We learned that neither the Governor nor the New York State Department of Health will be providing any guidance,” he said. “Whether the Suffolk County Department of Health provides guidance is still unknown.”
However, he wrote that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that masks should be required of everyone inside K-12 schools, while also urging classrooms to return to full-time, in-person classes with proper prevention strategies in place. These infection control preventions include social distancing, hand-washing, staying home when sick, and wearing masks.
A meeting regarding the reopening plan will be hosted on Thursday, Aug. 26 at 6:30 p.m. via Zoom.
The William Floyd School District is awaiting further guidance from the state on masks and will abide by the state laws as they have done throughout the pandemic.
The William Floyd School District has sent a letter to the speaker of the New York State Assembly Carl Heastie and Senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, urging them to immediately revoke the Governor’s pandemic powers and restore local control and decision-making to the elected boards of education.
“The request for local control and decision-making would include the ability to make masks optional based on local positivity rates, and to host one traditional outdoor graduation ceremony with the entire graduating class and guests as in years past,” the letter reads.
Superintendent of schools Kevin M. Coster and board of education president Robert Vecchio, on behalf of the William Floyd School District, wrote the letter jointly.
“We have heard from many of our families and even students themselves, even as young as elementary-aged, that masks are causing anxiety and mental anguish,” the letter dated May reads.
During a brief collection of parental opinion on local Facebook parent and community groups, several parents were both for and against the masking and unmasking of their children.
One parent highlighted the belief that the decision is not a “parental choice” but rather a public health concern. Another parent suggested unmasking children and if you are “scared, to stay home.”
Patchogue-Medford parent Brittney Santana said she is really concerned about the district caving into the pressure from parents not to wear masks.
“We all know that at full capacity, most schools in the district, frankly, do not have the space to fully socially distance [desks 6 feet apart],” she said. “The mask provides some protection to the wearer, but it provides excellent protection to those around the wearer. I will absolutely send my child in wearing a mask, which again will provide some protection, but unless others do the same, the risk remains high and my child deserves to feel safe at school.”
Thomas Schultz, a Bellport parent to a vaccinated 13-year-old entering high school, 12-year-old to be vaccinated before going into seventh grade and a 10-year-old daughter entering fifth grade unvaccinated, said he felt the decision was clear: masks decrease the chances of catching the virus.
“With the increase in infections in our area from the Delta variant, it is as important to wear masks in school,” he said. “We hope the district will implement a full mask policy and we are instructing our daughter that they will need to wear masks, regardless of school policy.”
“We feel it is important to continue to do all we can to fight this virus, and mask-wearing has been proven to be effective at protecting all, including the most vulnerable,” he added, noting the small price to pay in order to help keep in-person learning in place. “I also support mandates to have all district employees vaccinated or tested vigorously. One additional lost life to COVID is one too many. As much as I hate wearing masks, I have returned to wearing masks indoors. We need keep up the fight.”
Patchogue parent Kerrin Quenstedt agreed.
“I’m a mom, a nurse, and I work in our schools,” she said. “Masks are not harmful to our children. I know this because I am in our schools. “
Patchogue Tremont Elementary School parent Sara Ricci disagreed. She said that the most important aspect of a child’s growth is not only the academic aspect, but also the social one, most of which she said is done through facial expressions.
“If we deprive our children of seeing other smiling children, we could be doing irreparable, unknown future harm. Not only smiling children, but sad children and mad children. Seeing a sad friend teaches our children empathy,” she added, also noting her son, diagnosed with autism, already has trouble with social cues without masks. “A vast majority of our learning social interactions is done through facial expressions and depriving them of that is one of the most dehumanizing things we could possibly do to our sweet and loving children.”
Loraine Perritti DiBella, parent of two boys in Medford Avenue Elementary and an EMT, is also not a fan of masks.
“I wear them when I am on calls or walking into a hospital. I don’t feel it’s needed for my kids to wear them in school; it’s already hot enough in school,” she said. “Plus, wearing the mask isn’t going to stop it; when we think about it, their hands are still touching things which eventually make their way to their mouth. I am praying that masks will not be mandatory when they return.”
Another Patchogue parent, Megan Kelly McGourty, who is also a teacher in the district, said she feels the decision should be a choice. However, others noted the only way they would feel comfortable returning their children to school would be masked. Bay Elementary parent Donna Johnson Enzmann said she is concerned that masks won’t be mandated.
“I’m concerned that masks won’t be mandated and the Delta variant will run rampant through the elementary schools, putting my children at risk,” she said. “We know children are getting this variant easier and even getting sicker. It would be absolutely negligent not to enforce masks while this surge is happening. And it would be a waste of time and energy that parents and schools put into keeping the schools safe last year.”
“I support my kids wearing masks and will have them wear masks this year,” another Patchogue parent, Michelle DeGroat, said. “If there is a no-mask policy, I might consider remote learning, if it’s an option.”
Others were okay with either option. Medford Elementary parent Marie LeFemina Kropp said she will be sending her children to school, either way.
“I’m hoping that they won’t have to wear masks, but it isn’t stopping me from sending her to public school,” she said. “In my opinion, this will not be forever, just a hurdle that we have to get over. Things could be worse!”
Bellport parent and wife to an ER nurse, Monique Armann, said her entire family is vaccinated including her daughter, who is a senior, and another daughter who graduated in 2020, one of the first classes to deal with the pandemic, as well as her son, who is in the school system with Down syndrome and who was taught to wear a mask.
“I don’t understand why we can’t just continue to do masks a little bit longer to not only help slow the spread for our children, who are at this point one of the most vulnerable populations since not all of them can get the vaccine or will get the vaccine, and so that we can also make sure our hospitals do not get overrun and that we take care of our frontline health care workers the way that they took care of us,” she said, explaining why mask-wearing is part of CDC guidelines.