The following message was sent to the Mohonasen school district community on Sunday, June 6.
Dear Parents, Faculty and Staff,
On Friday afternoon (6/4/2021) the Cuomo Administration signaled an intent to change state requirements related to mask wearing for students and employees while in school or on school grounds.
The Cuomo administration released a letter by state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expressing the state’s intent to change its mask requirements. Please note that this was a letter from one organization to another and not official guidance from the NYSDOH to school districts. Needless to say, that very unorthodox move, to say the least, has created an avalanche of questions and speculation with the press reporting on this as if it’s actually state guidance to schools, putting districts like Mohonasen and superintendents such as myself in a very tough position.
The letter indicates that the intent of the Cuomo Administration was to await a response from the CDC before actually changing formal guidance on Monday, June 7th. Regardless, in the meantime, school districts, teachers, administrators, staff, students, and parents alike have been whipped into a tailspin of added uncertainty.
Specifically, the letter explains,
As many camps take place on school grounds, both serve school-age children, and the end of the school year/start of the camp season both occur in June, New York State plans to align our school and camp mask guidance as follows. In both settings, as a minimum state-wide guidance:
• Indoors, mask use will be strongly encouraged but not required for students, campers, and staff/teachers/counselors who are not fully vaccinated.
• Outdoors, masks are not required; students, campers, and staff/teachers/counselors who are not fully vaccinated are “encouraged” to wear a mask in certain higher-risk circumstances.
• Both indoors and outdoors, students, campers, and staff who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks.
• Schools and camps may choose to implement stricter standards.
The letter closes by stating, “If there is any data or science that you are aware of that contradicts moving forward with this approach, please let me know as soon as possible. We plan to make this guidance effective on Monday June 7.”
At this point, Mohonasen is not planning to change mask requirements on Monday, June 7, but that is clearly subject to rapid change as we await specific guidance from the NYSDOH to school districts, guidance which is sure to come very soon, maybe even during the day tomorrow, as districts around the state are now caught up in this confusion and emotions are running high.
I was on a call earlier today with the 24 Capital Region superintendents assessing the common direction for schools in the region. The common sentiment is one of frustration and disappointment that the state would put districts in such a situation when they can easily provide additional clarity and let us move forward together as a state. A Capital Region BOCES press release was just issued as a result of our meeting and you may find the details attached to this email.
Warm Weather: Frequency and Duration of Mask Breaks
As very hot weather is upon us I encourage teachers and staff to allow students to take ample masks breaks (increased frequency and duration) when inside the school buildings. I also want to remind everyone about the opportunity for students who are engaged in physical activities, whether inside or outside, to forgo mask wearing during those times, as outlined in my Friday update. As part of our collaboratively developed Reopening Plan, teachers have always had the flexibility to provide individual mask breaks to students as may be needed and in some of our classrooms, the heat will certainly warrant such breaks.
It is my earnest hope that the state will promptly, hopefully tomorrow, provide specific and clear guidance to districts in regards to wearing face coverings. I will communicate any such guidance to all parents, faculty/staff, and students, just as soon as it becomes available. I apologize for the current state of confusion and my heart goes out to both those who want all mask mandates ended immediately and those who worry such a shift will endanger children and/or adults. To date, we have endured the rigors and challenges of the pandemic as a proud and cohesive Mohonasen Family and I ask for your grace as we navigate the current face covering guidance situation.
Yours in Service,
Shannon Shine, Superintendent