Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman cannot tell a school board what to do. Nor does he have the authority to supersede state regulations or state executive orders.
The countywide executive orders Blakeman signed last week seem to direct county agencies not to enforce the state's mask mandate. They appear to direct local school boards to vote on "whether or not parents and children should be granted the constitutional right to reject mask mandates while in the classroom."
They seem to suggest that the county can overrule the state just by invoking the term "Home Rule." One indicates that masking children could result in "negative health and social ramifications" while another seems to argue Nassau "is not in crisis."
None of that is as it seems. The mere fact that Blakeman sat at a desk and signed a few large pieces of paper for a camera doesn't mean he has legally directed anyone to do anything.
It is more performance theater than actual governing.
The county simply has no legal authority over school boards, which report to the state Education Department, which reports to the governor. Gov. Kathy Hochul's masks-in-schools requirement applies to school districts no matter what Blakeman says or signs.
Blakeman's actions politicize an already fraught situation and further divide already riven communities. He's putting local superintendents and school boards in an awful and unfair position, where parents might expect them to take a vote they shouldn't be taking and where those who are anti-mask are buoyed by an elected leader who's pandering to them.
And Blakeman's other executive order doesn't change Hochul's indoors mask-or-vax policy, which applies to Nassau businesses just as it does any other business in the state. Choosing not to enforce it will come at Blakeman's peril and that of Nassau County residents. Even if he had a decent legal argument that the state was usurping the local government, the proper way to challenge the state's authority would have been for the Nassau County Legislature to issue a home rule message. A sentence in a word salad of an executive order doesn't mean anything.
Beyond the lack of legal standing, Blakeman doesn't have scientific or medical evidence to support his actions, either. There's no evidence that masks harm children or hurt student performance. And despite the rosy COVID picture Blakeman paints, Long Island's positivity rate is the worst in the state — 25.58% as of Sunday. Eventually, it will be time to have an honest discussion on how pervasive mask-wearing should be. But now is not the time for that conversation, or for easing restrictions.
Blakeman is wrong on the law. He's wrong on the science. He's wrong on the politics. And he's wrong on what's best for Nassau County.
MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.