On Friday, June 4, 2021, New York State Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard Zucker wrote to the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) and advised that, unless recommended to do otherwise, as of Monday, June 7, 2021, New York plans to modify guidance relative to wearing masks on school grounds. The letter follows Governor Cuomo’s June 2, 2021, press conference wherein “[Governor] Cuomo suggested he’d favor relaxing the mandate that students wear masks even outside. Current CDC guidance says schools should ensure “universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing” to offer in-person instruction.
Unfortunately, the June 4th letter was reported by the media and seems to have been misinterpreted that effective June 7, 2021, masks are no longer needed on school property. That is not a correct interpretation. Notably, the June 4th letter notes only that the State, “intends” to modify the rules and is seeking input from the CDC prior to doing so.
To date, schools have received no communication from the New York State Department of Health or the New York State Education Department changing the requirement that students and staff wear masks at school. While we had hoped to receive more information over the weekend, that has not occurred. Again, Commissioner Zucker’s letter indicates a general intent to change the requirement and a request for the CDC to provide any information that would contradict that approach. However, the letter does not represent an official change to the existing guidelines.
I am aware that the New York State School Boards Association (“NYSSBA”), along with several other organizations, have contacted the Governor’s Office and requested information relative to when school districts and BOCES may expect the implementation of a formal change in the State’s position. Again, NYSSBA has been advised the June 4th letter should not be read as a reversal in the rule obligating individuals to wear a mask on school property. In response, NYSSBA has stressed the untenable position in which school districts find themselves in as the result of parents and/or students misunderstanding the June 4th letter as support for the position that no mask is required on school property.
This afternoon, the New York State Education Department released a communication to schools noting “SED has been in communication with Executive staff regarding the letter from Dr. Howard Zucker, New York State Commissioner of Health. According to conversations with Executive staff, 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. No changes have been, or will be, made by the Executive until after Monday, June 7 to afford the CDC an opportunity to respond to the letter.”
We are encouraged by recent developments related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including Commissioner Zucker’s interest in relaxing mask protocols in schools. We consider these developments to be positive and a cause for optimism as we seek to return to “normal” operations as soon as possible. Unfortunately, as with so much of the information we have received throughout this pandemic, this letter has created confusion and frustration. The reality is that, void of any official guidance from the State Health Department or the State Education Department we must continue to follow existing guidelines and protocols until they are officially changed.
I apologize for the confusion this letter to the CDC and it’s reporting in the media has created. I, like many of you, long for the day when we can once again return to normalcy and focus full time on the tasks of teaching and learning. This pandemic has been a long haul and we do have cause for optimism as we can begin to see the light at the end of the long dark tunnel we have been in. While this pandemic has been a struggle for us all and has tested our patience, I am confident that the Bloomfield School Community will continue to persevere and take one day at a time - together. We have seen what is possible when we work together and stay together, and I have no doubt that we will continue to work together to accomplish a positive end to what has been a very difficult year.
Thank you for reading, please take care, and as always, let us know if you need anything.