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School districts call on Hochul to end mask mandates

The Erie-Niagara School Superintendents Association gathered signatures and sent a formal request to Gov. Kathy Hochul to expire mandates on February 21.

ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. — Nearly 40 superintendents across the Erie-Niagara region have joined forces in an effort to get Gov. Kathy Hochul to expire mask mandates, statewide, on the previously scheduled date, Feb 21. 

Members of the Erie-Niagara School Superintendents Association put pen to paper in a formal request to Governor Hochul to "close the chapter on open-ended COVID-19 related mandates and restrictions established by the New York State Department of Health. 

Michael Cornell is the president of Erie-Niagara School Superintendents Association and the superintendent of the Hamburg Central School District. He says "there's a growing chorus of school leaders asking when does the mask mandate come off the books and also recommending that it come off the books in unison across the state on February 21, when the mandate expires."

In the letter, superintendents from districts including (but not limited to): Williamsville, Sweet Home, Niagara Falls, Frontier, Lancaster and North Tonawanda discussed the success of the Test To Stay program as it relates to keeping students healthy and safe without causing major disruption to their lives. 

Cornell says that program, along with several other mitigation efforts, have made schools among some of the safest places for students, faculty, and staff. 

"Schools have been the safest place for a child and for our staff since we returned to in person learning in September of 2020. That fact is not in doubt," Cornell says. "So great credit to our school staff, to our students, and to the families who support our students for making all of it work, schools are safe."

So, why a letter?

Cornell tells 2 On Your Side, "We wrote a letter to the governor in November asking for end dates for mandates. So the purpose of the letter was to thank her for being responsive to our concerns about requirements and restrictions without end. And we also asked her in November to ensure that the New York State Department had provided material and technical support for test to stay, which she has done."

The reality though is, until further notice, mandates are in effect, and not just the state's. Erie County has its own.

As it relates to mask mandates, in a statement released to 2 On Your Side, a spokesperson for the state said:

Credit: Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul

A spokesperson for the Erie County Department of Health issued this statement:

Credit: ECDOH

Infectious disease expert Dr. Thomas Russo says the problem right now is the vaccination rate across local school districts is not nearly high enough, which means it may not be the right time to compromise safety measures. 

"Vaccination rates are less than excellent. We have a little less than 30% of our 5 to 11-year-olds vaccinated, and less than 60% of our 12 to 17-year-olds vaccinated," Russo says. "So the time for getting rid of mass will come. And I think that decision should be based on case numbers, how we're doing with hospitalizations."

Superintendent Cornell says that while he maintains his positions, he is sure districts will fall in line with whatever the state decides. 

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