LAKE RONKONKOMA, NY (OnSachem.com / OnTownMedia.com) — Students in the Sachem Central School District had a single day to go mask-less if they wanted. Less than 24 hours after the district’s Board of Education held an emergency meeting on Sunday evening and voted to make facemasks optional as of on Monday, the students will once again be wearing their masks on Tuesday.
Sachem was one of at least three school districts on Long Island to drop the mask mandate as of Monday, Newsday reported.
As students attended school mask-less on Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered that the masks be put back on while indoors, but authorized all districts to make masks optional outdoors on school grounds.
“This directive [for indoor mask-wearing] is not subject to local school control and is a blanket requirement throughout the state,” Sachem Schools Superintendent Chris Pellettieri wrote in a memo to the Sachem community on Monday evening. “The failure to comply with such directives could expose the District with sanctions and liability. I am writing tonight to inform you that we must remain in compliance with this latest state-issued directive requiring that masks be worn inside school buildings, but that no one will be required to wear a mask during outside activities.”
Pellettieri continued: “As such, beginning tomorrow, Tuesday, June 8, our students, visitors and staff will once again have to wear masks when in school and on school buses. Outdoor mask-wearing will be optional based on individual choice. Mask breaks will continue to be encouraged throughout the day. A mask break can be requested by any student, and the staff will facilitate their ability to do so safely.”
The about-face by Sachem Schools followed confusion and conflicting direction from the state beginning late Friday and continuing throughout the weekend. On Friday, State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker announced that masks would be optional effective Monday. Zucker sent the policy change in a letter to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the letter, Zucker said the state plans to move forward with the new policy unless the CDC could offer any information countering it.
On Sunday, the New York State Board of Education sent a letter to all school districts statewide clarifying masks are still to be worn, at least for the moment while the matter is reviewed with the CDC. Later that evening, Sachem Schools Board of Education approved a vote to make masks optional effective immediately.
“The State's guidance on mask use indoors remains in place, but school districts may choose to no longer require masks outdoors, for example during recess,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wrote in an email message on Monday evening, reiterating the detailed message he shared during a press conference earlier in the day.
Cuomo said: “The numbers show that the risk of transmission by children is extremely low, especially in this state, which has an extremely low positivity rate. You have states in this nation that have multiples of our positivity rate. We spoke with the CDC. They have policy guidance for schools nationwide. So their policy guidance is for the lowest positivity rate state and the highest positivity rate state. They're not going to change their guidance for several weeks. In New York State, we're going to modify the CDC guidance and allow schools to choose no mask outside for children. In other words, children wear masks in school, inside. When they're outside of the school building in recess, et cetera, it's hot, they're running around, but they're outside, there is no mandate for masks outside. We'll leave that up to the local school district. We spoke to CDC and CDC has no objection to that and is fine with it.”
Also on Monday morning, OnSachem News issued an important update to readers regarding an opinionated post on social media regarding Sachem’s decision to drop the mask mandate. The post appeared on several Facebook pages and gave multiple readers – including a member of the Sachem Board of Education – the false impression it was written by OnSachem News.
“OnSachem News has always been and remains steadfastly committed to objective, fact-based local reporting,” the update read. “OnSachem News thanks the readers who brought the concern to our attention on Monday morning.”