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Renewed controversy over mask guidance at schools

"She was not going to wear a mask"
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Posted at 5:25 PM, Jan 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-25 17:25:03-05

HOLLAND, NY (WKBW) — A mask mandate court ruling Monday from a state Supreme Court judge in Nassau County has caused renewed controversy and confusion for schools.

The judge struck down the statewide mask mandate saying it is "unconstitutional" and now some parents are saying this ruling means their children do not have to wear masks in school.

"She decided she was not going to wear a mask," stated Brian Wirth.

But for now, school districts across the region say the mask mandate remains in place for students and staffers.

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Briana Wirth (right) with parents after leaving school.

Briana Wirth, 14, made the decision not to wear a mask at school Tuesday. She is a freshman at Holland High School in the Holland Central School District.

Briana did not want to talk on camera, but her father, Brian Wirth says when his daughter arrived at school in the morning she was asked to put on a mask.

"Upon going into school, they had told her she was required. They tried to force a mask onto her, not physically, but just handing it to her. She did decline that and after declining that someone escorted her directly to the nurses office," explained Wirth.

Wirth says after learning of the court decision, it meant his daughter had the "right" not to wear a mask at school.

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Brian Wirth, Holland High School parent.

"So she believes it is within her rights to exercise her, you know, constitutional rights and not have to wear a mask because the mask mandate is in fact null and void," replied Wirth.

Wirth says unless the court issues a stay on Governor Hochul and the New York State Health Department's (NYSDOH) appeal on the court decision, students should not be forced to continue wearing masks.

But the New York State Department of Education (NYSED) recommended late Monday schools should follow the mask mandate.

Wirth tells me he and his wife picked their daughter up from school after speaking with the principal.

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Outside of Holland High School.

"The last conversation was that my daughter was given a directive that she could put the mask on and stay or she would have to actually vacate or leave the premises," Wirth remarked. "Doesn't matter what side of the aisle you on here with the science or whatever you want to say, the fact is whether these kids are within their rights to wear a mask or not. It is our belief, right now, at this very moment, without a stay on the current ruling, they're within their rights not to have a mask on."

But late Tuesday afternoon the New York State Attorney General announced that a judge granted the state's motion to keep the mask mandate in place as the appeal process continues.

"The process itself certainly lends to a lot more consternation and confusion," declared Mark Laurrie, superintendent, Niagara Falls City School District.

In the Falls City Schools, Laurrie tells me students are required to continue wearing masks.

"Have you heard from parents complaining about it or asking among that confusion?" Buckley asked.

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Mark Laurrie, superintendent, Niagara Falls City School District, in Zoom interview.

"We've heard from a dozen or so, asking if the mandate is still in place, we've tried to reason with their sense of patience and commitment to continue to do what we've done since the beginning of the school year," Laurrie responded.

Laurrie says he will try not to send any student, refusing to wear a mask, home.

"To possibly have that child work in a different setting, where they were six to 20-feet away from anyone else while staying in school. Also, to see if student could take technology home," said Laurrie.

The New York State Education Department issued the following statement in response to the court stay issued late Tuesday afternoon:

"We are pleased the Appellate Division granted the application by the Department of Health and the Governor’s office, confirming the lower court’s decision is stayed pending further proceedings. As such, the mask mandate remains in effect for schools across the state. We support Governor Hochul and the state Department of Health as they continue with the appeal. We thank the members of our school communities for their patience during this process."

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Earlier Tuesday the state's largest teachers union, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), issued a statement on masking in schools.

NYSUT says masking in schools saying the current mask guidance should continue.

"Public health experts have been clear that masks are an important part of the strategies designed to keep students, educators and our communities safe. Their current guidance is that masking up is the right thing to do, particularly given the still-elevated infection rates. In the meantime, we're looking to state health officials to set a clear off-ramp for when mask requirements in schools can be relaxed so students, families and educators have some certainty that there is light at the end of this long tunnel."

NYSUT

Meanwhile, in Erie County, the latest COVID data indicates 1,000 students and staff in the county tested positive for COVID between January 9th and the 15th.