School leaders respond to joint state letter suggesting mask wearing

"We are not moving toward mandatory masking"
Posted at 5:25 PM, Dec 07, 2022

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — A joint state letter is suggesting students wear masks as a triple threat of illness is spreading in communities.

The New York State Education Department (NYSED) and the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) issued the letter to school districts across the state. 

NYSED & NYSDOH letter.

But superintendents are not putting any mandates in place.

“We are not moving — we are not moving toward mandatory masking — that is not going to happen in Niagara Falls,” remarked Mark Laurrie, superintendent, Niagara Falls City School District. 

Niagara Falls City Schools student wearing a mask in early 2022.

Superintendent Laurrie shared with me the joint letter he received earlier this week from NYSED and the state health department.  

It explains that with the triple threat of high rates of RSV, flu, and COVID in many communities affecting children, the state recommends wearing masks in indoor spaces. 

But Superintendent Laurrie calls it just “advice”. 

Mark Laurrie, superintendent, Niagara Falls City School District. 

“We're reminding students and families continuously of the universal precautions that's number one, number two — we're letting families and students make their choices based on their own ends. Number three we are tracing and following the data of our district continuously,” Laurrie explained. 

Hamburg Schools Superintendent Michael Cornell, who also serves as president of the Erie-Niagara Schools Superintendents Association, tells me he believes districts are well past implementing a mandate.

“It seems really unlikely that any superintendent would require all people to do anything — given the widely available of choices that people can make for themselves,” Cornell noted. 

Hamburg Schools Superintendent Michael Cornell.

“Superintendent what would it take at this point to even consider going back to wearing masks?” Buckley asked. 

“In Hamburg, that's not even a conversation we're having right now in Hamburg and I suspect not a conversation being had anywhere in the state,” replied Cornell. 

The state letter noted that confirmed flu cases nearly “ tripled” over the past three weeks and flu hospitalizations have more than doubled.

I asked both superintendents about the rate of current illness in their schools. Both say they're seeing nothing too unusual.

Niagara Falls school children in early 2022.

“And I have to tell you what we're getting hit with most is the seasonal flu — that's really where we're seeing absentee around season flu,” responded Laurrie.   

“It's really nothing that we haven't seen before in other circumstances and at this point is nothing we can't handle,” answered Cornell.  

Niagara Falls City School students earlier in 2022.

Both districts say small populations of students and staffers wear masks for their own health concerns.

The state letter issued the following health precautions for schools for winter 2022-23 calling on communities and schools to consider them in order to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses:

  • Staying up to date on vaccines, including Flu and COVID-19.
  • Washing your hands often with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Not coughing or sneezing into your hands; sneeze or cough into your elbow.
  • Staying home when sick or symptomatic.
  • Wearing a well-fitting, high-quality mask when in public indoor spaces.