Remarks by NYSSBA President Peggy Zugibe at Feb. 8 virtual meeting with Gov. Hochul to discuss pandemic next steps_copy

FOR RELEASE: February 9, 2022

Thank you for organizing this meeting and allowing us the opportunity to offer our thoughts and perspectives on behalf of the nearly 700 school boards we serve. It is refreshing to now have these conversations and dialogues as we work through some of the issues that impact our schools and students. Joining me here are members of the NYSSBA Board of Directors, school board members from across the state, as well as Bob Schneider, our Executive Director, Jay Worona our Deputy Executive Director and General Counsel, and Brian Fessler, our Director of Governmental Relations.

Throughout the pandemic, NYSSBA has refrained from taking a formal position either in support of, or opposition to, masks. We recognize that our area of expertise is education, and that we are not epidemiologists, medical doctors or public health experts. In addition, our positions are driven by our membership – and as evidenced by the continued debate over mask mandates, our membership has not directed NYSSBA to take an official position.

Instead, NYSSBA has consistently advocated on the topic of masks, and other relevant COVID issues, to trust and follow the science. If public health experts believe that masks in schools are necessary to protect the health and safety of students and staff, and especially to help keep school buildings open, then we see that as an appropriate measure. If public health experts believe it would be reasonable for mask requirements to be up to individual districts, based on the needs and dynamics of the local community, then we ask for school districts to be granted that authority. In the same way that state data is collected, many local metrics and supports can assist in this process – county health departments, local positivity and hospitalizations rates, and school district COVID dashboard reporting, etc.

Ultimately, clarity on requirements and consistency in application and messaging are critically important. Making decisions based on sound science and public health, and not based upon community pressure, will help our school communities understand the policies in effect and trust that decisions are being made in the best interest of the collective good.

The past two years have not been easy, but our school leaders have been up to the task. Vaccines have been and are important, tests have been and are important, and we appreciate the Governor making many of these resources available to our schools. We encourage the Governor to continue to listen to the experiences of those in and around schools on this issue and others as we hopefully, and finally, reach the end of this pandemic.


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