Masks and other personal protective equipment seem to have become second nature for many, especially in public buildings such as courthouses, libraries and schools. But schools in New York were recently teased with the briefest opportunity to return to normalcy and once again see each other’s faces.
Tioga Central School District’s Interim Superintendent Scot Taylor said it began last week, when schools received a press release from the NYS Department of Health.
“Late Friday afternoon there was a press release in which Dr. Zucker, the head of the New York State Department of Health, had contacted the CDC about mask use in school,” said Taylor. “Our interpretation is they were trying to get some clarification between school use and summer camp use.”
Waverly Central School District Superintendent Dr. Eric Knolles said this press release stated that schools would not have to wear masks starting on June 7, barring the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying otherwise.
Knolles said that he next heard from the Chemung County Health Department.
“They sent out a memo to us saying that masks are no longer mandatory as of Monday,” said Knolles.
Taylor said that Tioga Central chose to be cautious and not take any action right away.
“We as a district did not do anything,” said Taylor, who explained that they wanted to see what other guidance, if any, was going to come from the NYS Department of Health, NYS Department of Education, or the governor’s office.
On Sunday schools received the further guidance that Tioga Central was anticipating.
“The New York State education department had released an email to superintendents that basically stated kids in school are still supposed to be masked,” said Taylor.
According to Knolles this email was not sent to every superintendent, but he did see the message on Monday morning.
“Monday we addressed the situation and we were back in masks by Tuesday,” said Knolles. “So we had kind of a free Monday I guess you could say.”
Another announcement came out of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office on Monday saying that schools would not be required to mask outdoors, whether it be sporting events, recess, outdoor graduation ceremonies, or other such situations.
Taylor said that the outdoor mandate “was really the big change in all of this.”
“You take a 90 degree day — a hot, humid June day — kids aren’t masked at recess,” said Taylor. “The few athletic events and practices we have left students don’t have to be, nor coaches or visitors to an athletic event, masked.”
Knolles agreed with the significance of this change.
“Our sports and athletics where you saw kids running the two mile with a mask on, you won’t see that anymore,” said Knolles.
Both schools are also planning outdoor graduations this year, so masks will not be required for graduates or their friends and families.
Both Knolles and Taylor understand and appreciate the importance of the masks for student health during the pandemic, but they also both see some downsides to the mask mandates.
“I do think it’s tough with kids,” said Taylor. “It isn’t just the masks ... kids are social beings and school is a social event.”
Taylor said that in his opinion he believes the masks do “impede that social interaction that is such a big part of the education process.”
Knolles said that it is his intention to have Waverly operating normally for the 2021-2022 school year.
“My plan is to have a regular school year going forward,” said Knolles. “If they’re going to throw something out and say everybody’s going to wear a mask in September, I want to know now. I want to brief my people and if I disagree with it I want to be able to fight about it now, I don’t want to have to fight about it on September 5.”
Taylor said that although Tioga hopes to return to a more normal operating procedure, they have built safeguards in their preparation for next year should they still have to social distance and mask.