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ECDOH addresses 'mask break' complaints in schools

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Posted at 5:25 PM, Nov 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-09 19:52:55-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The topic of mask breaks in school is front and center in Erie County after a letter was sent to the Williamsville Central School District from Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein on Friday.

The letter says the county’s health department received complaints regarding mask breaks in school.

Erie County officials say mask breaks, which are times when students are allowed to remove their masks while socially distanced, are not allowed because the “NYSDOH interim school guidance does not have provisions for mask breaks.”

Williamsville Central School District Superintendent Dr. Darren Brown-Hall says the district is following guidance from the beginning of the school year, permitting mask breaks.

Hamburg Schools Superintendent Michael Cornell says mask breaks are permitted in his district and will continue to be used.

Tuesday afternoon, the Erie County Department of Health issued this statement, providing clarification:

To clarify the correspondence that the Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) sent to the Williamsville Central School District last week, and address the subsequent reactions from school superintendents and parents, ECDOH does not intend to take enforcement measures against schools that are providing students with mask breaks during the school day.

Our county’s current case rates and high totals of new daily cases – the highest since the wave of cases in April 2021 – give our department cause for deep concern. Proper and consistent use of masks is an important way to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, but our department’s primary focus continues to be education, outreach, testing and vaccination efforts – not punitive measures.

ECDOH joins with parents and school administrators in wanting to maximize in-person learning, prevent illness among our county’s youngest residents, and bring a safe and quick end to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is an opportunity to remind parents and caregivers that full vaccination against COVID-19 provides a protective benefit for children ages 5 and older, and eliminates the need for quarantine if that child is a COVID-19 close contact and remains asymptomatic.

Parents in Williamsville say they plan on attending a Board of Education meeting Tuesday evening in support of the superintendent’s response to the health department.