Lyndonville Board of Education votes to make masks optional in schools

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 August 2021 at 9:37 am

Gov. Hochul, however, expected to make them mandatory

Photos by Tom Rivers: The Lyndonville Board of Education met Monday evening approved a reopening plan for 2021-22 that makes wearing masks optional for students, except on busses wear the federal government is making them mandatory. Ted Lewis, left, is president of the Board of Education.

LYNDONVILLE – The Board of Education on Monday voted to make wearing masks by students optional, even if the community is in a “red zone” with high Covid community spread.

The board went against recommendations from the State Department of Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the federal Center for Disease Control, which are all recommending students, teachers and staff wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.

Lyndonville board members were unanimous in voting to make masks optional for students, saying the choice should be up to parents.

“I understand that this is a complicated issue and people’s opinions vary greatly to the point of anger and frustration,” said board member Susan Hrovat. “I know each person won’t be happy about this. My goal is to allow each parent to make a decision for their child as much as possible. If you choose to mask your children, that is great. If you choose not to, that is your decision as well.”

The board said it expects new Gov. Kathy Hochul will issue a mask-wearing mandate before the start of the school. If she does, that would be the requirement in Lyndonville.

Board member Steve Vann urged the board to vote on the issue on Monday evening and not hold off until hearing from Hochul and the state. He wanted Lyndonville to make its position clear about masks for students.

“Don’t hide from it,” Vann told the other board members. “I think we should vote on it tonight regardless of what the state sends down so all of our constituents know where we stand on the issue.”

The board on Monday reviewed a chart that was similar to one used by other districts for wearing masks. The chart was developed with the four other districts in Orleans County and the Orleans-Niagara BOCES.

Although masks are optional inside Lyndonville school, face coverings will be required for students on busses, per a federal directive.

The chart also was going to make wearing masks a requirement in common areas where there are many students. But the board, in a motion from member Steven Vann, changed the draft plan to make masks in those high traffic areas such as hallways as “recommended” rather than required. Vann said Covid needs 15 minutes of exposure to spread and hallways interactions are much briefer.

The proposal also had that masks would be mandated to wear in classrooms if the county was in a red zone with the highest community transmission. (Orleans County is currently in the orange zone for “substantial” community spread, just below the highest level.)

Lyndonville will welcome students back for the first day of school on Sept. 8. The board voted to make wearing masks optional for students, but the state is expected to make them mandatory throughout New York for students.

Vann and the other board members voted to make masks “recommended” inside the classrooms if the county is in a red zone.

Vann said the Orleans County numbers aren’t evenly spread out throughout all communities. He said the cases tend to be lower in Lyndonville compared to Albion and the more populated parts of the county.

The board didn’t have the numbers available during its meeting about Covid cases per school district last year. Jason Smith, the district superintendent, said Lyndonville had its first student test positive in October. Lyndonville saw more cases in December and January, before the cases declined, which very little Covid in May and June, he said.

A state database shows the Covid cases per school district for the 2020-21. Here is the breakdown for each district in Orleans County:

  • Lyndonville (enrollment 639) had 20 students test positive for Covid (15 in-school and 5 remote) and 13 teachers and staff. The Lyndonvile students included 17 in junior-senior high school and 3 at the elementary level.
  • Albion (enrollment 1,768 students) had 86 students test positive (75 were in-person students and 11 remote-only). Those students included 33 in high school, 26 in middle school, and 27 in elementary school. There were 26 teachers/staff that tested positive.
  • Medina (enrollment 1,396) had 87 students test and the state database says 4 were in-person students and 83 were off-site students. Those students included 43 in high school27 at intermediate/middle school, and 14 at elementary school. The district also had 31 teachers/staff test positive for Covid.
  • Kendall (enrollment 698) last school year reported 37 students tested positive for Covid with 35 on-site and 2 as remote-only students. That included 19 at junior-senior high school and 18 at elementary school. Kendall also had 4 teachers/staff test positive.
  • Holley (enrollment 902) reported 45 students who tested positive last year, including 43 in-person students and 2 who were remote-only. Those students included 34 in junior-senior high and 11 at elementary school. The district also had 17 teachers/staff test positive.

Jason Smith, the district superintendent, encouraged the board to wait on voting about the mask issue until hearing if there will be a directive from the state. But Vann and the board members wanted to go on the record in support of making mask wearing a parental choice.

The district’s reopening plan will continue in-person education for five days a week, just like last year. However, there won’t be remote learning unless there is a documented medical reason for students.

Lyndonville will continue to do daily temperature checks of students, and will use some partitions in classrooms.

The district is waiting for final guidance from the local and state Department of health about quarantining students. One benefit of students wearing masks is there is less chance of students being in a 10-day quarantine if someone next to them tests positive for Covid, Smith said.

He noted of all the students who were quarantined last year after being identified as a close contact of a student who tested positive, none of those students quarantined ended up with Covid.

Lyndonville will have some rapid Covid tests available at school. The district used those last year to test some teachers and staff and Smith said the tests identified one staff member with Covid. Students can also be tested with a rapid test at school with a parent’s permission.

Smith said a message will be sent to the Lyndonville community today with details about the reopening plan for 2021-22.

Hrovat urged the district and community members to “respect the decision” by Hochul and the state if masks are required for students.

She also urged people to tone down the rhetoric with the masking issue.

“I would just ask that we all be kind to one another and respect each family’s decision to carry out the way they choose to protect themselves through this Covid crisis, and we just move forward the best that we can,” she said.