School Starts In A Month, But No Word Yet On Masks Or Vaccine Requirements

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Updated: 8/5/21 – 2:30 P.M. 

ITHACA, NY (WSKG) — The new school year is just around the corner, but throughout the Southern Tier, parents and teachers are still waiting to hear whether districts will require masks and COVID-19 vaccines.

On Thursday, the New York Department of Health said it will be up to individual school districts to make the call on mask mandates for the fall, but that it recommends following updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.*

Several regional district leaders in Broome County said they expect to announce a fall mask mandate soon. Ithaca City School District and Groton Central School District in Tompkins County both confirmed all students and teachers will be required to don masks when school starts this fall, regardless of vaccination status.**

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said earlier this week a vaccine mandate for teachers will be on the table if cases go up.

So far, the CDC has reported Broome, Otsego, Delaware, Tompkins, Chenango and Cayuga Counties have “significant” spread of the virus.***

The governor stopped short of a statewide COVID vaccine mandate, calling on local school districts to make the decision instead, but added that he thinks teachers who are not willing to get vaccinated should not be in the classroom. 

“How many kids does a teacher interact with during the course of a day?” Cuomo said. “Thirty, forty, a hundred, hundred and fifty? That child can get the virus and go home. Why shouldn’t the teacher be vaccinated?”

The state teacher’s union said in a statement on Monday that it does not support a vaccine requirement for teachers.

A classroom set up for socially distanced teaching at Windsor Central High School. (Megan Zerez/WSKG)

District leaders in the Southern Tier said they, too, have been dealing with changing recommendations from the CDC. Scott Beattie, assistant superintendent of Windsor Central School District, said there is a lot that is still up in the air before the school year begins.

“Every once in a while at the gas station or something, somebody will ask, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ And it’s a similar conversation,” Beattie said. “It’s still too early to know exactly.”

Windsor Central School District Superintendent Jason Andrews said he expects pushback if the district were to implement a vaccine mandate on the heels of a universal mask mandate.

“We want to be responsive and we want to stay on top of things,” Andrews said. “But I would not want it to be way out in front of this before more information comes.”

Andrews said that as a superintendent, he is used to enforcing the rules. But when it comes to a vaccine mandate for teachers, he said he is not sure he has the public health expertise to make the rules.

“That is beyond our area of expertise,” Andrews said.

Windsor Central and other district officials said they will wait for guidance from the New York State Department of Health before they make their final decisions on masks and vaccines for the fall.

* Updated to reflect a statement from the New York Department of Health.

** Updated to reflect statements from school district officials. 

*** Updated to reflect current county-by-county infection rates from the CDC.