NYC students can remove masks after court rules Hochul's mandate 'unconstitutional'

The First Deputy Chancellor of New York City Public Schools issued a letter on Tuesday to all principals, saying that children in families that choose to opt out of masking cannot be disciplined.

Libby Emmons Brooklyn NY

Update: An appeal was filed by the state and a court stayed the mandate pending a hearing of the case.

A New York State's Supreme Court ruling that struck down unelected Governor Kathy Hochul's statewide mask mandate, calling it unconstitutional, also applies to New York public school students, including those in New York City.

Kids can finally dispense with the masking in New York City public schools. The First Deputy Chancellor of New York City Public Schools issued a letter on Tuesday to all principals, saying that children in families that choose to opt out of masking cannot be disciplined.

"The New York City Department of Education is aware of the recent Nassau County ruling related to the Governor's mask mandate and is currently reviewing the decision. In the interim, the DOE's mask policy continues in full effect. As a preventative measure, if students do not follow DOE's Face Covering guidance, schools should not the family's objection and not take disciplinary action at this time. Further guidance is forthcoming."

In short, the schools would like to continue enforcing masking on students, but are not secure in their legal right to do so.

In light of the Supreme Court ruling, Hochul said that "When a state mandate lapses, I expect all school districts will say, 'We don't have to do this anymore. When the state requirements lapse, everybody cannot follow them any longer." On Friday, prior to the ruling, Hochul had claimed that she would extend mask mandates if Covid case counts indicated that she should. It turns out that she does not have the authority to do so.

New York Attorney General Letitia James has stated that the Hochul administration, which came to power after James' office leveled sexual harassment charges against former Governor Andrew Cuomo, pushing him from the Capitol seat, said that the ruling against the mandate would be appealed.

"We’re appealing last night's decision that struck down the mask mandate in New York," she wrote. "We will continue to do everything in our power to protect New Yorkers from #COVID19."

The New York State Department of Education issued a statement to New York schools on Monday night after the verdict in the Supreme Court case in the state, saying that:

"The State Education Department understands that Nassau County Supreme Court has ruled that the Department of Health exceeded its authority in enacting the mask regulation, 10 NYCRR 2.60, in Demetriou et al. v. New York State Dep’t of Health et al. This regulation is the subject of conflicting decisions, insofar as Albany County Supreme Court recently upheld the regulation in Massapequa UFSD et al. v. Hochul, et al.

"It is SED's understanding that the Department of Health will appeal the Nassau County Supreme Court decision, which will result in an automatic stay that will unambiguously restore the mask rule until such time as an appellate court issues a further ruling. Therefore, schools must continue to follow the mask rule."

The view of the New York State Department of Education is that because there will be an appeal, and they believe that appeal may be successful to the point where the order is stayed pending a ruling, students should continue to be forced to mask.

Westchester open schools activist noted that if there was a stay, this would have been made clear, and that thus far, there isn't one.

Parent activists rung in the news on Twitter by saying they would be unmasking their kids, with the hashtag #UnMaskOurChildren trending.

Moms for Liberty praised the decision by the New York State Supreme Court in Nassau County as well.

New York City Department of Education still lists mask guidance on their website that all students must mask in schools. It reads: "All students and staff must wear a face covering when riding on school buses and anywhere on school property, indoors and outdoors, regardless of vaccination status, unless they have a medical exemption. Forgot a mask? No problem—every school will have a supply on hand for children and adults.

"During lunchtime, masks may be removed so students can eat comfortably at a safe distance from one another. Masks may also be removed during designated 'mask breaks', during which students will maintain physical distance from each other.

"Students who are not medically able to tolerate masks will be provided with alternative accommodations. Requests for exemptions or accommodations can be made to your school."

Students in New York City public schools have been masking since they returned from remote schooling, first to a "blended" education model where students were in school for a few days and home for the rest of the week, and then to a full school week, in which kids have been fully masked.

The Supreme Court ruled that the governor's mask mandate was unconstitutional in large part because the people's representatives were not given the opportunity to weigh in on the order and the governor's emergency powers came to an end last March.


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