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Local schools prepare for end of statewide mask mandate

Rose Wong
All of the experts NPR spoke to agreed that masks should be worn at school by everyone.

With Gov. Kathy Hochul lifting the statewide school mask mandate on Wednesday, schools are preparing for a possible transition to new masking policies.

In a letter to staff on Sunday, Rochester City School District Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small said leadership will make a decision on Tuesday about masking policies.

“Please understand that our decisions will be based on many factors and we will communicate our final determination on masking in schools no later than Tuesday, March 1,” she wrote.

Myers-Small said the decision will be determined after reviewing COVID-19 data and meeting with stakeholders.

Lesli Myers-Small is the superintendent of Rochester City School District.

On Monday, Monroe County reported 669 new COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths in the past week. There are 278 people currently hospitalized for the illness, with 44 in the intensive care unit. The majority are unvaccinated.

One elementary school teacher in the Rochester City School District said he’s cautiously optimistic about transitioning away from a mask mandate in schools.

“I do hope that this doesn't cause any sort of even mild outbreaks because currently I can't come to work sick,” said Jason Valenti, a fifth-grade teacher at School 39. “And if they need to get subs because I have a cold while I'm waiting to be tested, that's going to be another problem.”

He said the lack of substitutes has already compromised students’ education.

Many of his students have had family members become sick with COVID-19, and some have lost loved ones to the illness. Valenti said masking seems to have helped prevent the spread of illnesses, and he’s concerned for those whose health might be compromised if it’s no longer required.

“I really empathize right now with the people who are unable to be vaccinated due to age or other conditions,” he said. “To them, this is still a very real and grave threat.”

Fairport Central School District Superintendent Brett Provenzano said in a letter to families on Sunday that the district plans to move to a mask-optional policy on Wednesday.

“It is important that we work through this transition together as a Fairport community," Provenzano said in the letter. “To help our students and each other through the next phase, we are committed to being patient, listening to our Fairport staff and families, and asking for support when it is needed.”

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.