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Hauppauge schools to state: We will follow your guidance on masks

Hauppauge High School.

Hauppauge High School. Credit: Howard Simmons

The face-off between Hauppauge schools and the Cuomo administration ended Sunday as district officials said in a letter to the community that masks will continue to be required indoors.

The Sunday note came three days after the school board president and the teachers union president told state officials in a letter that they assumed they could no longer require masks be worn when social distancing is possible.

That would, however, defy state guidance that mandates indoor masking.

The June 10 letter was signed by school board president David Barshay and Hauppauge Teachers Association president Kevin Giachetti.

District Superintendent Dennis O’Hara previously said he was not consulted on the prior note and that "masks should be worn to protect everybody in the school community," including those with medical conditions who are not vaccinated.

The latest letter was signed by the three men. It noted the district has not heard directly from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the state’s health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker or the state health department.

Instead, officials cited a Newsday article published Saturday that included a quote from a health department spokeswoman’s statement: "Pre-K to Grade 12 schools must comply with DOH guidance in order to be authorized to remain open for in-person instruction."

"In Hauppauge, we would never violate state law; that is not the lesson we want our children to learn," the letter read. "Opposition, in whatever form, must be done respectfully and always through lawful means."

It continued to say that a school shutdown would be "extremely detrimental to the educational process and certainly not in the best interest of our students."

Despite the reversal, officials stressed the importance of local control.

"We all remain steadfastly united in our belief that individual districts must be allowed the freedom to choose their own best course of action on all matters pertaining to the education, health and safety of their students," the letter read. "… Homogenized curricula, instruction and policy strips away individual community, family and pedagogical values."

When reached by phone Sunday, O’Hara referred to the latest letter, declining to comment further. Barshay, who said Saturday that he, Giachetti and at least three other board members would meet Sunday with attorneys for the district to discuss the legal issues involving masks, said Sunday that no meeting took place.

Giachetti, who said Saturday that teachers would meet Tuesday on the mask-lifting plan, did not respond to calls for comment Sunday.

The state guidance on masks had created massive confusion earlier this month when Zucker on June 4 wrote to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to say that New York would drop its school mask mandate unless CDC officials had objections.

Then, three days later on June 7, Cuomo said the federal agency was comfortable with lifting the mask mandate outdoors but not indoors. The governor then modified state rules to require masks only indoors. Before the Monday announcement, however, several school districts on Long Island had moved to eliminate their indoor mask-wearing policy, only to reverse it after the state changed course.