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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Schools stay masked as mandate makes its way through courts

A state Appellate Court judge has issued a stay on the state's mask mandate for schools and public places, keeping Gov. Kathy Hochul's mask mandate in place while the appeal process continues.

Tuesday's decision came a day after a Nassau County judge tossed Hochel's indoor mask mandate, saying such an order could only be implemented through the state legislature.

The rulings sparked confusion among schools and businesses across the state, with one local district saying Tuesday it was not taking action against students who did not wear masks in school.

Oakfield-Alabama Superintendent John Fisgus noted the state Department of Education's statement earlier Tuesday, "It is SED's understanding that the Department of Health will appeal the Nassau County Supreme Court decision, which will result in an automatic stay that will unambiguously restore the mask rule until such time as an appellate court issues a further ruling. Therefore, schools must continue to follow the mask rule."

The state Education Department initially told districts Monday night that the state's appeal automatically triggered a stay, and that they must continue to follow the mask mandate in the interim.

Education officials shifted their message hours later, saying they were seeking to "confirm" whether a stay was issued, and softening their stance to say only that schools "should" continue to follow the mask mandate. The statement came before Appellate Court Judge Robert Miller's stay order on Tuesday afternoon.

Fisgus affirmed Tuesday afternoon "at this point in time, no student will be removed or face consequences for not wearing a mask while in school. The waters are muddied because there is some confusion on who can authorize or approve such mandates. I wait for further direction on a more concrete decision in the next day or two."

"...Decisions in masking in New York State are coming fast and with a great deal of inconsistency and confusion," Ben Halsey said in a statement. Halsey is the Superintendent of the Pioneer Central School District.

"Some people are saying, 'How could state ed have more authority than the court?' That's the opposing opinion," he said. "We'll be as least restrictive as legally possible at Notre Dame once we know more,, but we're not going to jump into any decision until we have more information. I'm going to trust our colleagues at the Diocese and the county Health Department to guide us in a way that's best for kids and teachers and staff."

Hochul called on New Yorkers to continue covering their faces Tuesday.

"I'm encouraging parents and students to continue doing what they're doing because the last thing I want to see is a different trend because people gave up on the masks." Hochul said at an event in Syracuse on Tuesday.

In a statement following the stay order, Hochul applauded Miller for "siding with common sense and granting an interim stay to keep the state's important masking regulations in place."

The governor said she expects the case to be settled shortly and stood by her belief that the Department of Health has the authority to require workers, shoppers and school kids wear masks indoors.

Hochul said the mask mandate is keeping kids in school while protecting them from the virus.

"I am so looking forward to the day to say 'these are history, we don't have to do this any longer' -- all of us are" Hocheul said while holding up a mask. "I don't want to keep any requirements of safety in place any longer than necessary, but I will not do it a day before we can do it safely. "We will get to that day," she said.

The state's mask rules for schools were put in place last August before classes started, raising the ire of parents across the state.

Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, took the opportunity of the Monday's ruling by Nassau County Judge Thomas Rademaker to call for an end to mandates.

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