Students will not be required to wear masks in schools — even if they are unvaccinated, according to new state guidelines that go into effect Monday.
But state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said schools may implement stricter safety standards — and the city Department of Education said it will ignore the guidance and continue to impose a “universal mask” policy in schools.
Zucker said unvaccinated students will be “strongly encouraged but not required” to wear masks indoors if unvaccinated.
Masks are not required outdoors, though students and staffers who are not fully vaccinated are “encouraged” to wear a mask in “certain higher-risk circumstances,” Zucker said in a letter to the Centers for Disease Control.
Students and staff who are fully vaccinated for the coronavirus “do not need to wear masks” indoors or outdoors.
But Zucker said the “schools and camps may choose to implement stricter standards” than the new optional mask guidance recommended by the state.
The New York City public school system overseen by Mayor Bill de Blasio immediately said it will skip the state guidance and continue to impose a mask wearing policy for students and staff.
“The health and safety of our students, educators and staff remain our top priority. Per State guidance, local districts may implement standards that make the most sense for their communities, and we are continuing with our universal mask policy at our schools,” said city Department of Education spokeswoman Danielle Filson.
The state teachers’ union rapped the more lenient mask wearing policy, coming just weeks before the end of the school year.
“Announcing on a Friday afternoon that masks will now be optional for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people in schools starting Monday — with only three weeks remaining in the school year — is whiplash-inducing news,” said New York State United Teachers president Andy Pallotta.
“Short of any additional guidance from the state or the CDC before Monday, we implore school districts to closely evaluate local conditions and connect with their educators and parents to decide the best course of action for protecting their school community,” he said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has taken heat for the stricter mask wearing policy previously in place for summer camps and schools.
Zucker sent the letter informing CDC Director Rochelle Walensky of the changes, expressing New York’s concern over the inconsistency in the CDC guidance between children who are unvaccinated at summer camps and the current rules for unvaccinated children at schools. The CDC recommends mask wearing at schools, but make it only optional for summer camp.
Zucker said he needed to tweak the guidance before summer camps open.
“If there is any data or science that you are aware of that contradicts moving forward with this approach, please let me know as soon as possible,” Zucker told Walensky in the letter.