NYSUT says masks should be mandatory in schools

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Buffalo, NY (WBEN) The New York State United Teachers is calling for mandatory masks at schools when they reopen.

In a letter to state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, the union cited ongoing concerns with school reopening plans across the state and the disparate mask policies that exist among school districts. NYSUT urged the state to look to scientific research showing the efficacy of masks and recent guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics that recommends the universal use of face coverings. 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.” 

“The governor has said — and we agree — that parents and educators must be confident in their school district’s reopening plan in order for this to work,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said. “As we hear of disparate mask procedures and other issues in reopening plans across the state, it’s clear that the state must step in. Making masks mandatory at all times is one step toward helping address the reservations that still exist regarding reopening school buildings.” 

“Educators and parents agree: School districts need to err on the side of caution,” Pallotta said. “Safety must continue to be the top priority.” 

“The science is clear that masks are among the most effective ways we can reduce the spread of this virus,” said Dr. Jana Shaw, a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital in Syracuse. “It’s essential that schools do everything in their power to help keep children and adults safe in school buildings so they can focus on their education in a healthy environment. Strong mask policies have helped us get the virus under control in New York, so it only makes sense that schools would follow a uniform mandatory mask guideline across the state.” 

Shaw does note a mask break for children, when done right, is appropriate. "You're dealing with children of different ages, that might be challenging, so one should schedule a mask break of 5-10 minutes in a controlled environment," suggests Shaw. "Scheduling mini-breaks so children can take a break and do so safely might be easier and the best way to get kids safely back to school."

Dr. Steven Lana of Delaware Pediatrics agrees with mini-breaks. "The mask is intended to decrease the risk of spreading or catching contagion. It does not completely eliminate the risk," says Lana, who says if that were the intention, we'd also wear PPE, goggles and gloves. "Taking masks off in the right conditions like going outside and eating is perfectly acceptable."