School will be starting for almost 2 million New York state students over the next few weeks, and most of them will be required to wear masks. 

In her first address to New Yorkers this week, Gov. Kathy Hochul outlined plans for a school mask mandate, and announced that she was laying the groundwork for a statewide requirement that all school staff either get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. 

“We’re very encouraged,” Bob Lowry, deputy director at NYS Council of School Superintendents, told Capital Tonight.

During the period between Andrew Cuomo’s announced resignation and Hochul’s installation as governor, Hochul held a virtual meeting with members of various education organizations. According to Lowry, who has worked in state government for decades, it was the first meeting of its kind that he can remember.

“She, actually when she was still lieutenant governor, met with leaders of all the statewide school groups as a group, and that’s something that’s unprecedented to my knowledge in the over 30 years that I’ve been involved in education policy,” he said. “She listened to our concerns and priorities. It was a refreshing change.”

The conversation seems to have informed her decision to mandate masks in schools. But the mandate has already sparked some pushback. 

“We have heard that some school board meetings have turned ugly and confrontational,” Lowry said. “That’s a concern. This really needs to be a decision about what’s best for the health and safety of students and employees.”

Many superintendents are in support of the mask mandate because it takes the decision out of the hands of the local school district, and places it with the Hochul administration. 

“We are all working to make sure our schools are safe for students and staff.  We are following the CDC. Masks have been recommended from the beginning as a mitigating factor,” said Ray Sanchez, superintendent of the Ossining Union Free School District. “I believe the decision from the governor helps alleviate the debate some are dealing with at the local level.”

On Tuesday, New York State United Teachers President (NYSUT) Andy Pallotta also issued a statement in support of the mask mandate:

“Gov. Kathy Hochul brings a breath of fresh air to Albany, and she already is taking decisive action to bolster health and safety in our schools. We support universal mask wearing as part of a layered mitigation strategy that also includes robust COVID testing, contact tracing, proper ventilation and other strategies recommended by public health experts. We also support the governor’s move to require regular COVID testing for school staff who are not yet vaccinated. It’s critical that educators continue to have a voice in the implementation of vaccine requirements and other COVID policies at the local level.”