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New York State will not be lifting mask mandate in schools, for now

The New York State Department of Health notified school districts Sunday after not getting a response from the CDC about the new mask recommendations.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The New York State Department of Health has notified school districts that it will not be adopting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new recommendations, despite saying Friday it planned to adopt the guidance on Monday.

A portion of the letter sent to 2 On Your Side reads, "the intent of this letter was to obtain a response from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regarding differing standards for summer camps and schools; it has not changed any existing arrangements."

"Therefore, schools should continue to operate under their existing procedures until further notice.” 

But some superintendents say it only added to a weekend of confusion for them, school staff, parents, and students. 

Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker wrote a letter to the CDC director, which was released Friday, expressing concerns about the difference in mask guidelines between schools and summer camps, especially because many of those camps are held at schools.

Those concerns were apparently not addressed over the weekend and therefore means masks rules will stay in place for kids in the classroom.

Buffalo Public Schools said in a letter Sunday evening that it will continue to ask students and staff to wear masks, and to follow proper social distancing guidelines, for the remainder of the school year.

The Ken-Ton School District notified parents Sunday with a post on its website, as did the Hamburg School District via email.

Hamburg School's Superintendent Mike Cornell, who is also President of the Erie-Niagara School Superintendents Association, told 2 On Your Side, "At a time when people have had to deal with uncertainty and confusion for the last 15 months, and now in the waning days of the pandemic, there's an opportunity to provide clarity. Clarity is kindness, and instead what the New York State Health Department did was provide 48 hours of uncertainty."

Cornell added, "We as school superintendents again find ourselves in the position to have to ask our parents, and our families, and our staff have patience while we wait for the state to sort it out."

Niagara Falls Superintendent Mark Laurrie added, "It's time to go back to local control, be it school district or a city, of making those kind of decisions. That would eliminate this who's on first, who's pointing the finger at who, and who's guidance do we follow and when?"

Right now, the CDC says fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.

Unvaccinated students and staff are advised to wear masks in most situations indoors, while in outdoor situations there is some leniency.

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