Schools need new rules on mask wearing before classes resume...

Schools need new rules on mask wearing before classes resume in the fall.  Credit: Getty Images/kali9

When the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday it would no longer recommend that vaccinated students and teachers wear masks inside schools, it capped an eventful week of updates.

One day earlier, the state Health Department announced face coverings would be optional for summer school, at the discretion of districts, matching the current rules for summer camps. But Long Island educators are racing the calendar to prepare for fall, and they haven't received enough instruction to plan properly.

The CDC guidance is out. The state says it will issue rules once it reviews that guidance. That needs to happen promptly, because districts must devise plans to educate students according to state rules, and they cannot instantly readjust their classrooms, cafeterias, hallways, school buses and staff.

The CDC now says vaccinated teachers and students don’t need masks. If the state makes that its policy, are districts supposed to determine who has taken the shots? If so, are they supposed to verify the information that has been such a political flashpoint by demanding proof, or merely ask and trust?

And that’s just the first question for district leaders, who are already late in making hiring decisions for fall. They also need to know:

  • How many feet apart are students and teachers, masked and unmasked, supposed to be in classrooms, cafeterias, hallways and buses — information crucial to determining how many teachers, classrooms and buses are needed.
  • Will virtual schooling be allowed, and if so, under what circumstances can students demand to learn remotely and teachers demand to work that way?
  • What are the contact-tracing standards if students are distanced less and an infection occurs?
  • What are the cleaning protocols and ventilation requirements?
  • What will the rules be for the arts, athletics and extracurriculars?
  • If Pfizer and Moderna, currently testing their vaccines on children under the age of 12, get approval by fall or during the coming school year, how will school requirements change?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, under what conditions would a new outbreak or a more dangerous variant alter the rules, and how?

It's difficult terrain for school administrators to navigate right now. Some parents have already balked at district demands that kids wear masks, and that older ones get vaccinated, but if everyone returns to in-person schooling, other parents may object to a lack of masking, vaccinations and verifications.

Teachers, too, are divided in their specific concerns, with some balking at vaccines and some balking at teaching unvaccinated students. Whatever rules the Health Department hands down will create some kind of backlash, and will be difficult to implement.

So school districts must know soon what regulations they must follow when the school year starts, and what they need to be ready to do if the pandemic resurges.

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.

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