The Massapequa school board voted Thursday night in favor of a mask-optional policy for teachers and students starting on Feb 21, when the state's emergency regulations on masks in schools are set to expire. Credit: Massapequa Board of Education

The Massapequa Board of Education has voted to halt enforcement of mask-wearing in its schools when the state mandate expires next month.

The school board voted unanimously Thursday night to adopt a mask-optional policy when the mandate expires Feb. 21, though Gov. Kathy Hochul has not said whether it will be extended.

"The board has spent more than two years reviewing COVID health and safety measures, and we believe that our educational community will remain safe and students will benefit socially, emotionally and academically from this move forward," board president Kerry Wachter said in a statement Friday.

Massapequa is the second Long Island school district making news this week about masking. A Connetquot school psychologist and the district’s teachers association said the administration was not enforcing mask-wearing. Connetquot school officials said mask protocols remain in place.

The state mask mandate was issued on Aug. 27, and renewed on Nov. 24, the date the 90-day emergency mask rule was set to expire. It was renewed for 90 days, and state officials confirmed Friday that the expiration date is Feb. 21.

In approving the new policy, Massapequa school board members said they wanted to regain local control of their district and allow parents and individuals to make personal health decisions.

The board also noted that the district has complied with all COVID-19 protocols and will be providing N95 masks to any teachers, staff and residents who make a request.

Both Wachter and interim Superintendent Brian Conboy declined requests for interviews Friday.

Hochul said Friday she has not taken any action regarding Massapequa because it just happened the previous night, "so you have to give me a little more time."

But "as a parent, I find it phenomenally disappointing that people want to play politics with children’s lives. Schools were the safer place for children, not when they went home. They got sick when they went home during the holidays. Schools are safer. Why are they safe? Because people have been wearing masks."

She added: "I fully expect school boards and other leaders to recognize how important this has been and why our children are safe."

Once the mandate is lifted, then obviously all districts are free not to require masks, she said.

Massapequa board members pointed to the Jan. 6 announcement by Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman saying that local school districts can opt not to obey the state mandate on masks in schools. He argued the county has "home rule authority" of preventing the state from imposing unreasonable restrictions on parents without a compelling reason.

The Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association has said Blakeman has no legal authority to tell schools not to follow a state mandate requiring masks indoors.

On Friday, Blakeman issued a statement praising the action by Massapequa.

"I applaud the Massapequa school board for giving parents a voice, and the ability to choose what is right for them and their children," Blakeman said. "Nassau County shouldn’t be painted with the same broad brush as the rest of the state, and I believe Nassau school boards and parents, who have their fingers on the pulse of their communities, should have the power to make decisions that are right for them."

Massapequa, along with the Locust Valley school district, filed a joint lawsuit against the state in September trying to overturn the mask mandate. The districts argued that authority to issue a mandate belonged to the State Legislature. The lawsuit, filed against Hochul and then-state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, accused both of usurping power on Aug. 27, when they signed off on an order requiring everyone in schools to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.

An Albany County Supreme Court judge denied the lawsuit in November. In his decision, Judge Henry Zwack wrote: "Lawsuits challenging the State’s public health protection measures during this worldwide pandemic have all reached the same result, namely that mandatory health requirements do not violate substantive rights."

Massapequa and Locust Valley filed paperwork in court in December signaling their intent to appeal.

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