Update: Buffalo Public Schools announced late Tuesday night that mask wearing in schools will not be required, despite previously stating they were keeping the mandate in place.
While some of the biggest school districts across New York State say they will lift the mask mandate starting Wednesday, the Buffalo Public Schools says the mask mandate will stay in place for now. However, the district will re-evaluate it this Friday.
The district's medical advisory team recommendedthe district keep the mask mandate this week for schools and public transportation.
The school district issued the decision late Monday night. Buffalo school leaders will watch three data points to determine when it would be removed:
- Local COVID-19 rates of transmission over the last seven days
- Current pediatric hospitalization rates
- Zone color identification for Erie County (Orange, Yellow, Green)
“Right now we have a transmission rate of 3.9 and it would be great if we were at about 3.0,” remarked Dr. Casanda Wright.
Dr. Wright is acting Buffalo Schools superintendent while Dr. Kriner Cash is away this week because what the district calls 'family reasons.'
Wright says as Erie County remains in a yellow level for transmission rates, the district has decided to keep the mask mandate in place this week until the county drops to the green zone.
But that medium yellow level is a reason the mask mandate will no longer be in place Wednesday in public schools across Western New York.
“And we're nearly there. We are nearly there, so what is unique to the City of Buffalo — we have to be sensitive to the needs, the medical needs of our particular community and how COVID impacts our families,” Wright explained.
“A lot of people are talking about the fact that Dr. Cash is not here in town and that because he's not here that is part of why the decision has not been made to remove masks from the school district,” Buckley questioned.
“We’re making deliberate decisions — really around evaluating the data — the best practices for this city. So decisions are being made right now the decision is to continue to evaluate our data and then make another decision when it is safe for our particular community to remove their masks,” responded Dr. Wright.
Buffalo Board of Education President Lou Petrucci says COVID numbers in city schools have been low, but the district is also waiting for off-ramp guidance from the state.
“I know that there's a variety of draft documents that have been circulating. Governor Hochul and the Erie County health commissioner asked for the input of school districts from across the state — we were all pretty vocal,” remarked Petrucci.
“Families have been waiting a long time to get the masks off,” replied Wendy Mistretta, parent.
Mistretta is president of the city’s District Parent Coordinating Council.
She says she has been getting a lot of calls from parents both for and against the mask mandate in schools.
“I’m just trying to really be very respectful for those on both sides because what we always say is whatever a parent says they need for their child — they're right,” explained Mistretta.
“Even if the mask mandate had been lifted on Wednesday, I would have my kids continue to wear masks for a little bit,” stated Jessica Bauer Walker.
Bauer Walker is president of the Parent Community Health Worker Association for the city schools.
She says her “primary concern” is to make sure schools stay safe for students.
“We still have quite a few families and children who are not vaccinated, so that decision to unmask is a lot less safe,” said Bauer Walker. “I definitely would feel a lot more comfortable not having my kids masks if more of our families were vaccinated.”
Meanwhile, the Erie County Health Department sent out a tweet on Twitter Tuesday saying it “has not provided a recommendation” to the Buffalo Schools to continue the mask mandate.
Dr. Wright says she wasn't aware of the tweet.
“I really couldn’t speak to the rational or why they tweeted that,” replied Dr. Wright.
Albany, Syracuse and Yonkers all say their schools will be lifting the mask mandates on Wednesday, but Rochester and New York City are still waiting to make a decision.