NYSUT calls for mandatory mask wearing while indoors at schools

The spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Hanau
A medical protective mask is seen as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Hanau, Germany, April 3, 2020. (REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)

Teachers union officials demanded on Thursday that masks be worn at all times in schools. 

New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), which represents over 600,000 educators, along with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten are calling on the state to change the Department of Health’s reopening guidelines to make mask-wearing mandatory while indoors during the school day as some districts prepare to send their students back to buildings for in-person classes. 

Exceptions to the rule would include during appropriate breaks or a medical condition. 

“The governor has said — and we agree — that parents and educators must be confident in their school district’s reopening plan in order for this to work,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta in a statement.“As we hear of disparate mask procedures and other issues in reopening plans across the state, it’s clear that the state must step in. Making masks mandatory at all times is one step toward helping address the reservations that still exist regarding reopening school buildings.”

In a letter to state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, the union urged the state to look at research supporting the efficacy of mask and recent guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics urging the universal use of cloth face coverings.  The union also cited a recent change in Pennsylvania guidance to make the use of masks mandatory at all times during the school day. 

“Unfortunately, as the beginning of the school year nears and districts continue working out their reopening plans with parents and teachers, we are seeing disparate mask policies that are not leaving parents or educators confident in the safety of their district’s plans,” the letter states. “In reviewing individual reopening plans with educators in the field, it’s clear that numerous plans do not go far enough in their mask mandates to ensure the safety of students and educators.” 

NYSUT has also advocated for the closure of school buildings for 14 days if a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19 and for clearing reopening protocols on how testing, contact tracing and quarantining will occur in schools. NYSUT also supports the delay of reopening in any district where any safety measures come into question.