Local School Districts Adapt After Mask Mandates Dropped Local School Districts Adapt After Mask Mandates Dropped

Just one Onondaga County school is still requiring masks

CONNOR SMITH: School hallways around the Syracuse area have been filled with maskless students for the first time since the pandemic started. The only school in the Syracuse area still requiring masks is the Onondaga Nation School on the Onondaga Reservation. The Lafayette Central School District operates the school. Superintendent Jeremy Belfield says Onondaga Nation leaders are seeing what happens at other schools before dropping the mask requirement.

JEREMY BELFIELD: I think taking those additional precautions within that community, given the number of multi-generational households, is also important.

SMITH: Belfield says roughly 20-30% of students and staff in the district’s other schools are still wearing masks. That matches what Liverpool School District Superintendent Mark Potter has seen. Potter says kids were happy once the district dropped its mandate.

MARK POTTER: Kids were excited, kids were smiling. And I’m not saying kids weren’t smiling before, but you couldn’t tell. There was a pretty excited and happy response to those masks coming off.

SMITH: It feels like things are getting back to normal two years after the pandemic shut schools down.
Connor Smith. NCC News.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – For the past three weeks, school districts around Onondaga County have been adjusting to life without mask mandates. 

Every district in the county quickly dropped its mandate after New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced Feb. 27 that masks would become optional in schools, but the Onondaga Nation School, located on the Onondaga Reservation, has still required masks for all students and staff — making it the only school in the county to currently require masks. 

The school is operated by the Lafayette Central School District, and Superintendent Jeremy Belfield said the district has held recent meetings — including one on March 11 — with Onondaga Nation School leaders, who want to see what happens at other schools before removing their mask requirement. The superintendent told school leaders that any COVID-19 policies they want to keep in place will be honored by the district. The small size of the Onondaga Nation, combined with the fact that many of the reservation’s households are multi-generational, has created a need for extra caution, according to Belfield. 

For the district’s other schools, many have been favorable of the mask requirement being dropped, Belfield said. About 70-80% of Lafayette’s students and staff have ditched their masks, he estimated. 

“I think kids and staff and parents, they’re happy to have the choice,” Belfield said. “We’re seeing lots of smiling faces and smiling eyeballs.” 

That 70-80% figure is similar to what Mark Potter, the superintendent of the Liverpool School District, has observed. Potter sent out a poll the Monday before Hochul’s announcement to ask for views on masks potentially becoming optional in the district’s schools. Roughly 4,300 people responded to the survey, he said, with about 65% of respondents saying they wanted masks to become optional. Potter was in school buildings on March 2 — the first day masks became optional in the district — and said students were excited the mandate had been lifted. 

“I was not I was not surprised at all by the reaction that I got, because to be fully transparent, I haven’t heard from anyone who’s complained about the masks coming off,” Potter said. 

School districts are still taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19, though. Peter Smith, the superintendent of the Jamesville-DeWitt School District, said unvaccinated staff still have to get tested weekly — something Liverpool also requires — while classrooms have increased ventilation with social distancing still encouraged. LaFayette has bought air purification units for each classroom, and distributed thousands of rapid test kits to families. 

The superintendents also are ensuring that students, staff and parents are all aware that masks are still optional and can be worn at schools. 

“One of the things that I think is important is that we emphasize in all of our buildings that  masks are optional,” Smith said. “Anybody who feels more comfortable wearing a mask should go ahead and do so. And we wanted to make sure that we had sort of an environment in all of our buildings where people felt comfortable making those choices and observations in the week after the mass mandate was lifted.”

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