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GOP introduces school mask measure

Several Republicans in the state Assembly want the state to set standards that would allow parents to choose whether or not their child wears a mask in schools.

The legislation (A.8487) is sponsored by Michael Durso, R-Massapequa Park, and is co-sponsored by 15 Republicans in the Assembly, including Joe Giglio of Gowanda.

It would require the state health commissioner to calculate the level of community transmission of COVID-19 on a district-wide basis and then compare those levels to the Centers for Disease Control’s metrics. School districts found to be below the CDC’s threshold for COVID-19 transmission would then allow parents or a student’s legal guardian to make the decision on whether or not the student wears a mask at school.

To do so, Durso proposes adding a new section to the state Public Health Law to require individuals being tested for COVID-19 to disclose the school district in which they reside and that information to be included in any report of laboratory results to the state Health Department or county health departments. The state health commissioner would be required to determine the level of community transmission of COVID-19 on a school district-wide basis based upon the current standards established by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and publish that information at least once a week.

“In the current political atmosphere, the wearing of masks by students while attending school has been emotional and divisive. However, it is clear that every parent wants to keep their child safe, and ensure that decisions are being made in the best interests of students,” Durso wrote in his legislative justification. “In order to provide clarity on this issue and make decisions based on the risk of being exposed to COVID-19, this legislation is proposing to allow parents to make the decisions on when a child wears a mask in school districts where the community transmission level is below the CDC’s threshold for a high level of community transmission of COVID-19.”

Companion legislation has not been introduced in the state Senate, and the legislation couldn’t be acted upon until the state Legislature returns to session in January.

Even then the bill would face an uphill climb in the Democrat-controlled legislature.

However, over the weekend more than 20 Assembly members sent a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul asking her to set a standard allowing the state’s school mask mandate to be lifted. Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, and fellow Democrat Assemblyman John McDonald both signed the letter to Hochul.

Last week, Hochul tied a possible relaxing of school mask requirements to levels of COVID-19 transmission.

“So let’s get more shots in arms,” Hochul said during a COVID-19 briefing at the Delavan Grider Community Center in Buffalo. “Let’s have more measures in place for social distancing and masking. And let’s just talk about getting through this. Let’s get through this and it’s all about working with the local leadership. Because I know they’re the ones who live and breathe this more than anyone. I’d love to be able to get through this winter with no more spikes. Everyone’s tired of the masks. I thought I’d deal at this point. Let’s talk about removing masks in schools, but if there’s no progress, we’re going to have to have stricter measures.”

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