BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — At least three school districts issued letters to school families and staffers saying masks would no longer be required for summer school programs.
But the districts say they remain consistent with current CDC guidance on summer camps.
The letters were distributed in the Depew, Tonawanda City School and Hamburg Central School Districts.
They say wearing masks for summer school programs is "strongly encouraged, but not required."
Hamburg Schools Superintendent Michael Cornell, who also serves as president of the Erie Niagara Superintendent Association tells 7 Eyewitness News, with state school guidance ending at the end of this school year and low COVID transmission rates, it was time for the district to make the decision.
“The wearing of the mask is a matter of personal preference,” replied Cornell.
That means students in summer school programs will no longer be required to wear masks in and out of the classrooms.
The Tonawanda City School District urging families to keep their children home if they're “not feeling well."
Reasons districts say they are ending requiring a mask in summer programs:
- No state of emergency
- Infections rates are low
- Vaccination rates increasing
But now districts can celebrate a victory.
Cornell says the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) issued an email Wednesday that officially agrees with the district's decision.
Date: Wed, Jul 7, 2021 at 12:25 PM
Subject: Updates Relevant to 2021 Summer Schools
To: health.sm.SchoolQuestionsCOVID <SchoolQuestionsCOVID@health.ny.gov>
We are writing to share three updates relevant to 2021 summer schools.
- Given current low rates of COVID-19 transmission, schools/district may decide to implement revised masking policies consistent with those available in the archived INTERIM GUIDANCE FOR CHILD CARE, DAY CAMP, AND OVERNIGHT CAMP PROGRAMS DURING THE COVID-19 PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY (available here) [governor.ny.gov].
- Daily reporting to the COVID-19 Report Card [schoolcovidreportcard.health.ny.gov] is no longer required.
- Summer schools in NYS may follow either the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools Through Phased Prevention (available here [cdc.gov]) or the current NYS INTERIM GUIDANCE FOR IN-PERSON INSTRUCTION AT PRE-K TO GRADE 12 SCHOOLS DURING THE COVID-19 PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY (available here [governor.ny.gov]).
The above information applies to the 2021 summer session only and additional information will be shared regarding the 2021-2022 school year soon. These decisions, which should reflect local sentiment, may be made by the school superintendent or local board. There is no requirement for additional public meetings.
“The state guidance update that we got in an email earlier today reenforced our interpretation, and we are ready to move forward,” stated Cornell. “What I think they did here is apply common sense — there is no state of emergency — infection rates are very, very low — the number of people in the hospital with COVID is very, very low, so it makes no sense to impose a mask mandate in schools when there isn't a there isn't a mask mandate anywhere else.”
“I think that that's great progress to have — something we have been advocating all along,” remarked Dana Hensley.
Hensley is a Williamsville School parent and is with WNYStudents First.
Hensley’s organization says they are continuing to mount a legal battle against the state health department and government to remove mask mandates for children.
“We want the mask mandates to be lifted and for the governor to get out of our way and allow parents and stakeholders to make the decisions that we believe is best for our children,” Hensley noted.
Hensley says the power to make decisions on wearing masks should be decided by the districts and not in Albany.
WNYStudents First continues raising funds to launch a lawsuit against the state.
Hensley says they're hoping to make a decision by the end of this week.
“Because parents across New York State — we’ve had it — New York is one of the outliers,” stated Hensley. “We need for this to be lifted now. There’s no reason to continue.”
The next school year, just two months away, remains up in the air.
“Do you think there's going to be any change in what they are going to issue for the new school year guidance, especially when it comes to masks wearing?” Buckley questioned.
“I wrote to my school community in June and I told them that my expectation was the school opening for September of 2021 would look a lot more like the school opening of September 2019,” responded Cornell. “We should see a very normal opening of school.”
Despite an outcry from some school families against the masks mandates in schools, Cornell says the state health department responded fairly in this summer programs request.
“In this case the New York State Department of Health was able to accommodate our desire for flexibility and put the decision about masks in the hands of local superintendents and local school boards,” declared Cornell. “They applied common sense.”
Hensley’s message to the state “we need clear guidance that is science-based — the state does not have evidence to do most of the things that have done this year and we have learned that through previous lawsuits.”
“New York is one of a handful of state in the entire country that still has mask mandates,” Hensley remarked.
The Akron Central School District also issuing a letter to school families Wednesday saying masks will not be requiredfor it's summer programs.
7 Eyewitness News reached out to the Tonawanda City School District and the Depew School District for comment, but they have yet to reply.