Shift in CDC guidance renews school mask questions

Shift in CDC guidance renews school mask questions 1

Long Island school officials, teachers and parents offered mixed opinions Tuesday after the CDC — citing new information about the infectious power of the delta variant to spread among vaccinated people — recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff and students, regardless of their vaccination status.

The wearing of masks in school has been a divisive policy, to the point where some Long Island parents have organized protests against it.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shifted away from masking in school buildings this month, Plainedge High School science teacher Perry Fuchs celebrated, if only because he knew how much students and teachers wanted to be rid of the face coverings.

But with infections on the rise, Fuchs said the government has to do what’s best for the health of the students and staff.

“It’s the government’s job to care for citizens,” said Fuchs, who also represents the district teachers union. “Although I know my teachers are looking forward to be maskless, and I know the students are hoping to be maskless in the fall, we have to go with what the government says.”

Robert Dillon, superintendent of Nassau BOCES, said his district has been wearing masks indoors and will continue to do so.

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“We will remain on course, watching the numbers,” Dillon said.

He said the district did not change its plans when the CDC had recommended weeks ago that fully vaccinated teachers and students no longer needed to wear masks in the building.

While some people complain that the CDC is flip-flopping on the issue, Dillon said he understood the need to change guidance as the health situation shifts.

“This has been a moving target; things change on a dime,” Dillon said. “This has been a huge improvisation from the beginning.”

The CDC guidance represents a recommendation, and the final mask policy will depend on the mandates of the governor and state Department of Health.

Kimberly Velentzas, a Glen Cove mother, said she agrees with the new federal recommendation. Everyone in her household is vaccinated against COVID-19, but she said they still wear masks when they’re in the supermarket.

“There’s no need to be selfish by not wearing a mask,” said Velentzas, whose son, Harrison, begins his sophomore year in the fall at Glen Cove High School. “It’s like wearing a seat belt or a helmet on a motorcycle.”

But Dana Diffendale, 48, of Massapequa, who has two daughters in the school system, said she disagrees. She said that, in general, kids are not a major spreader of the virus, and they don’t get very sick from it. So why, she said, should they be forced to wear masks?

“It’s very aggravating,” Diffendale said. “There’s no statistics where kids are giving the virus to teachers. So why are the kids being used as political pawns?”

Diffendale has participated in several protests against mask mandates in school. She said her daughter works at a summer camp where hundreds of children are unmasked.

In Baldwin, school officials have held fast to their trust in masks, sticking with the mandate that they be worn in the building, officials said.

“For me, the new CDC guidance reinforces our decision,” Superintendent Shari Camhi said.

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