Governor Meets with SAANYS

On February 8, SAANYS was invited to meet with Governor Hochul to discuss COVID-19 related guidance. Also invited to this meeting were the NYS Council of School Superintendents, the NYS PTA, NYS School Boards, and The Conference of Big 5 School Districts. Approximately 35 SAANYS members participated in the meeting, with President Harry Leonardatos (pictured top row, center of the Zoom screen) speaking on SAANYS’ behalf.

Anticipating that masking requirements would be an item for discussion, SAANYS presented the following points:

• The need for a clearly articulated statewide policy, that when released, will provide adequate time to communicate any new guidance to the community and provide sufficient time for implementation.

• A statewide policy should be based on health-related metrics that provide guidance as to when masking may be discontinued.

• Implementation decisions made at the local level must be made through strong regional collaboration between school districts and local counties of health. School districts that cross multiple county health departments must be provided consistent procedures.

Dr. Leonardatos was able to follow up on his remarks during another segment of the discussion. He stressed the need for lead time for implementation at the local level. He gave an example of how guidance that is released on a Friday evening is very difficult to implement by Monday. Any policy on masking needs to provide administrators lead time to communicate the change and implementation.

During the meeting, the governor also:

• Acknowledged her understanding that other states were making changes to masking requirements, but that she could only look at NYS data to guide her. She remembers vividly, when in November, all COVID-19 numbers were trending downward and then a month later we were hit by Omicron.

• Expressed her appreciation for the work of all educators in getting test kits out, with contact tracing, and providing instruction.

• Stated that right now, our numbers are again trending down which is great, but we are going into a February school break.

• Stated that it is not likely that there will be a change in school masking requirements until at least the end of the school break, and then only after reviewing all health-related indicators, including vaccination rates for our youngest students.

• Requested the assistance of school districts in continuing to advocate for vaccinations, especially as we approach the availability of a vaccine for children under the age of 5.

• Said that masks have been important in keeping schools open, which has been a high priority, especially based on information on the mental health toll the pandemic has wrought on students.

• Stressed that district discretion will be important should the masking requirement be lifted. Educators are the most trusted persons in their communities.

• Said that if masking becomes optional, we must ensure respect for persons who do or do not wear masks.

Comments by Other Participants

• Communities are hanging on by a thread as far as masking goes, and explicit reasons need to be given on masking requirement changes. There was an indication that more persons would decide to not wear masks.

• Concern was expressed that should the masking requirement be made optional, then it will be very difficult to return to a full masking requirement if needed.