Local school districts allow masks to be removed while outdoors

Graduates throw face masks in the air instead of mortarboards

(Photo illustration by Will Dendis)

With just weeks remaining in the 2020-21 academic year, area school districts are rolling with new COVID-19 protocols, allowing students to remove their face masks while outdoors. Kingston, Saugerties, New Paltz and Onteora all lifted the outdoor restrictions, but will maintain indoor mask and social distancing protocols already in place. 

The announcements came after a week of conflicting information, as Governor Andrew Cuomo first announced that masks no longer had to be worn in New York schools, then rescinded the guidance after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that face coverings should still be worn indoors on school grounds. 

As of Friday, June 11, the Ulster County COVID-19 Dashboard listed 33 active cases, up three from two days earlier but still lower than it’s been since the early days of the pandemic hitting the Hudson. 

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The state is also showing progress with vaccinations, with 67 percent of the population 18-older having received at least one vaccine dose as of June 11, and 59.6 percent receiving their full cycle. With the recent expansion to allow children as young as 12 to receive the Pfizer vaccine, those numbers show 55.4 percent of the total eligible population receiving one dose, and 48.5 completing their vaccine series. The numbers are even better in Ulster County, where 70.9 percent of the 18-older population have received at least one vaccine dose, and 61.1 percent of all eligible people receiving at least one. 

Kingston City School District

Kingston City School District (KCSD) Superintendent Paul Padalino said the district has followed the guidelines of the New York State Department of Health, who left the decision up to each individual district. 

“We feel that it’s safe to continue to socially distance when the students are outside without their masks on, that it’s safe and appropriate and a good step in the right direction,” Padalino said. “I know there’s still a lot of people who are unhappy, who want masks off in school, but again, we follow the guidance. So as they loosen things, we’ll loosen things. And actually, I don’t have the authority to go beyond what the Department of Health says, no matter what some people in the community think.”

Padalino said that following the guidance of experts has served the KCSD well during the pandemic. 

“Everyone’s tired of masks, and it was hot this week,” Padalino said. “But one of the things I think that’s lost in all this is how successful we’ve been in keeping the coronavirus under control in schools. Yes, we’ve had quarantine situations and we’ve had students who were positive, but we haven’t had a massive outbreak at any event or in any school building. And it’s really because we’ve been adhering to guidance from the CDC and the New York State Department of Health.”

Padalino said he doesn’t expect the indoor protocols will change in the district before the end of the school year, nor will the new outdoor guidance impact the pair of Kingston High School graduation ceremonies scheduled to take place at Dietz Stadium on Friday, June 25. 

“The big thing about graduation is the size, and there is no change in the number of people who can be in attendance,” he said. “So we’ll still be doing two graduation ceremonies with about 250 students on the field and about 500 parents in the stands, socially distanced in pods. That’s as of right now, but you’ve been watching this, that could change tomorrow, who the heck knows?”

Saugerties Central School District

In a Tuesday, June 8 letter to the community posted to the Saugerties Central School District’s official website and Facebook page, Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt acknowledged the “confusing” information in the prior week, but like other districts, said that Saugerties would not require masks outdoors on campus. 

“The guidance says New York State is no longer requiring face masks to be worn outdoors on school grounds, including during outdoor athletic games and practices,” Reinhardt wrote. “Therefore, effective immediately, mask use is no longer required outdoors on the grounds of the Saugerties Central School District…However, there has been no change to the requirement for masks indoors and on school buses. Our staff will continue to take temperature checks and to provide frequent mask breaks and opportunities for hydration during this warmer time of year.”

New Paltz Central School District

New Paltz Central School District (NPCSD) Superintendent Angela Urbina-Medina sent an e-mail to the NPCSD community on Tuesday, June 8 announcing the mask change. 

“Late in the evening on June 7, the New York State Department of Health released updated guidance regarding mask-wearing in schools,” said the letter. “In response to this new guidance, effective immediately, the New Paltz Central School District will no longer be requiring face masks to be worn outdoors on school grounds, including during outdoor sporting events. The guidance still requires that masks be worn by all students, staff and visitors while inside our school buildings and on transportation. Please be aware that even though masks are no longer required outdoors, no one shall be prevented from wearing one if they so choose.”

Onteora Central School District

Onteora Central School District (OCSD) Interim Superintendent Marystephanie Corsones notified the OCSD community of the change on the district website on Tuesday, June 8. 

“Last evening, we received updated official guidance from the New York State Department of Health indicating that masks are no longer required to be worn outdoors on school grounds, including outdoor school sports,” Corsones wrote. “Social distancing, however, is to be maintained. Although masks are no longer required, the NYSDOH indicated that the use of masks is still recommended for non-vaccinated individuals…The guidance also clearly indicated that masks are still required indoors for all students and staff for the balance of the school year.”

Corsones added that the indoor mask mandate included school buses, and wasn’t just required for students and faculty, but also any indoor visitors. Parents picking up their children outside of school are not required to wear a mask as long as they practice social distancing of no less than six feet.