Sarbelia Benedict, of North Babylon, said she has told her...

Sarbelia Benedict, of North Babylon, said she has told her 9-year-old daughter to keep wearing a mask when she returns to school Wednesday. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Parents around Long Island are having mixed reactions to sending their kids off to school maskless on Wednesday, the first official day the state-imposed mask mandate is lifted.

Masks have been a key tool to fight the spread of COVID-19 in schools, but a steep drop in overall cases statewide and other indicators led Gov. Kathy Hochul to announce on Sunday she is dropping the requirement for K-12 schools. Students and staff can still wear masks if they choose.

Christine Drago of Oakdale said her eighth-grade daughter, in the Connetquot district, is "super excited" to no longer have to wear a mask in school.

"It’s long overdue," said Drago, who has an older daughter in college. "The kids have been going maskless outside of school for a year or more. It’s really just a school thing."

Drago said she is concerned Hochul will reinstate the mandate if the number of COVID-19 cases increases even by a small percentage.

But Amit Shelat, a father of two children from Jericho, said he is concerned about future variants and waves of COVID-19.

"Right now, COVID is relatively fine, it’s under control," said Shelat, who has a son in seventh grade and a daughter in 11th grade in the Jericho school district. "When the next variant rolls around, we don’t know what the situation will be."

Annmarie Guginsky of Commack said her two children, who are in sixth and 11th grade in the Commack district, are looking forward to attending school without a mask.

"I am happy they are getting rid of the mandate," Guginsky said. "My son gets speech therapy and it’s been ridiculous. A lot of kids aren’t wearing them properly anyway."

Michael Tricarico of Garden City, who has an 11-year-old son in that school district, also welcomed the news about masks becoming optional in schools.

"I think the kids have been through enough," he said. "I think with the numbers going down, it’s justified. This is a step toward getting back to normal."

Other parents think it's still too soon to abandon the use of masks in schools.

Sarbelia Benedict, of North Babylon, said she has told her 9-year-old daughter to keep wearing a mask when she returns to school Wednesday.

"We will revisit that in a few weeks but I just feel it’s too early after a break," said Benedict, who also has a 4-year-old son. "It has been shown that [COVID cases] can go up after vacation or a break. You have a room full of students — some are vaccinated and some aren’t. I just feel the safest choice for her is to keep her mask on."

Benedict said her daughter understands the risks, especially with a little brother too young to be vaccinated.

"She also saw her mother sick when I had COVID in March 2020," Benedict said.

Shelat said many kids are not wearing masks properly in schools, and getting them to don them once again — if needed — will be a challenge.

"Later on, getting that horse back in the barn is going to be extremely difficult," he said.

Shelat said he advises his kids that it’s OK to go maskless outdoors, but that they should wear masks when they enter a building.

Djenny Passe of Freeport, whose son is in second grade, said, "I am going to send him to school with a mask and hope and pray he keeps his mask on.

"I am going to have a conversation with him about it," she said.

Passe said she is comfortable sending the active 8-year-old to his swimming and karate classes because they use appropriate COVID-19 precautions. But she remains concerned about possible transmission in school and other public spaces.

"I know the rates are getting better but this isn’t over," she said of the pandemic.

Alan Osterweil, a former teacher who lives in Plainview, said he thinks the mandate was lifted too soon and Hochul succumbed to public pressure.

Osterweil said he would not have felt safe teaching in a school without a mask mandate.

"People are still getting sick and dying from COVID," he said.

With Erin Serpico and Dandan Zou

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