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The End of Masks in NYC Schools?

By Grace Schuringa

New York City, New York

New York's Governor Kathy Hochul and NYC Mayor Eric Adams. (Pablo Monsalve / Getty Images)

In a poll released by the Siena College Research Institute, 58% of voters appeared to be in agreement with Governor Kathy Hochul’s decision to collect further data before lifting New York's mask mandate in schools. The majority of these respondents are local residents without children attending NY public schools, according to the New York Times. Within the debate over extending mask mandates in the state’s schools, the question of how many students are vaccinated is also posed. Although data on school-level vaccination rates has not been released by the city to date, this information could be imperative if union officials choose to determine mask mandates on a school-by-school basis.

New York City's education department is withholding the data because they classify it as “sensitive,” and therefore believe that sharing that information would violate students’ privacy. The contradictory argument–which claims that disclosing vaccination rates is considered an “obligation–” is also debated (NBC news). In parts of Manhattan, records show that 99% of kids have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. According to NBC news, in removing masks, officials state that there will be an uptick in cases regardless, but to a different degree depending on varying vaccination rates.

State Supreme Court Judge Thomas Rademaker ruled the statewide mask mandate “unconstitutional” on Monday January the 24th. Despite Rademaker’s rule to discontinue the mandate, New York City’s public school system continues to sanction it. This decision remained in place for a day before appeals court judge Robert Miller reinstated the mask mandate. Many saw this as an opportunity to refuse to wear masks in locations of education. Deputy Weisberg advises schools to “note the families objection but not take disciplinary action at this time.” Yet, this statement encouraged students to break COVID-19 guidelines and was consequently quickly retracted. Disciplinary action was instigated in certain schools against students who refused to wear their masks, taking measures as drastic as suspension.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, COVID-19 has been categorized as a disease that affects mainly immunocompromised or older members of society. One study shows that students are not spreading COVID-19 in schools but rather, transition by staff is more common. It is debated whether infected adults pose a greater risk to students, than their fellow peers. Additionally, there is little evidence proving the effectiveness of masks in preventing the transmission of COVID-19.

The CDC continues to recommend wearing masks while indoors throughout communities with risk of high transmission, such as New York City, a dense city.

In an attempt to lift masks by March, New York will assess the COVID-19 metrics the week following spring break. Hocul claims that things could change if another strand develops in the upcoming weeks. Head of the CDC, Dr. Facui addresses ending school masking as “risky;” the assessment of elements that go into making this decision are positivity rates, hospital admissions, as well as distribution of the vaccine amongst the student body. Even in accordance with New York State lifting their mask mandate, the decision regarding public schools is still left in the hands of separate counties. As for private schools, it will remain a decision for the individual institutions. New Jersey, Delaware, Oregon, Connecticut, and California are among the states who have announced plans to lift mask mandates in February and March. In order to keep NYC schools open, Mayor Eric Adams claims that masks are a safe alternative to online learning.


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