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Mask Mandates Lifted in NYC Public Schools

EMILY SCHUTZ, HOST AND BYLINE: Mask mandates have been lifted for most New York state school districts, and Mayor Eric Adams will likely make the decision to lift mandates in New York City schools in the coming days. Maria Mavrides is a professor in the Early Childhood Education Program at Hunter College. She says lifting the mandates could raise complicated issues for parents, teachers and schools. Although for many students, masks are just a part of their daily routine.

MARIA MAVRIDES: Children that are three years old right now, they have basically not known a world without masks, a lot of the children have totally adapted to the concept of wearing masks. And also, they have adapted to receive and understand a language with the masks on.

SCHUTZ: Good to know. So what is this transition going to look like?

MAVRIDES: Parents always will have the option to bring children to school with masks. And teachers should have that option as well. Now, the flip side of that is that there may be some social stigma, you know, from wearing the mask now in in the classroom. So as teachers, we have to be very mindful of that, and making sure that everyone is accepted that despite the choices they make, so children that decide to wear the masks are not in any way different than those that just gone school without a mask.

SCHUTZ: Could you talk a little bit about teachers? What will this transition look like for them?

MAVRIDES: There are some of them that are relieved, that they will be able to teach without a mask. A lot of them have been exposed to the virus already in the latest Omicron wave. So they feel like the worst is it's behind them. / However, there is a portion of teachers that feel that this is premature, particularly in the early childhood age group, because as you know, children below five years old, they haven't had the vaccine yet. / And studies show that masking for children between two and five years old, was linked to a 13% reduction in child care closures due to COVID outbreaks. So many teachers and directors feel like without the vaccine for the younger kids, this mask removal is a little premature.

SCHUTZ: What can we expect as far as the divide among those who are still pro mask and those who are not in schools?

MAVRIDES: Directors, principals and teachers and families need to be included in the conversations for their own centers? What works for them? What does it mean when a friend doesn't wear a mask or wears a mask? And why everyone should be welcome in the classroom. I think that the leadership, how the leadership reacts to it, and how the leadership brings about the different members of the community, the teachers and the parents, to discuss our different opinions about what is happening. I think it's crucial.

SCHUTZ: How can parents explain this to their kids?

MAVRIDES: One of the things that I think will be a mistake is to say it's over. Yes, finally, we got rid of the masks because that may not be true. Right now, I think that the message should be there's a choice that we can make. And we can talk as a family of why that choice works for our family, taking into account why that choice may be made with others in mind. For example, if you're having a teacher that may be high risk, you may want to have the conversation with your child of why you're gonna send that child mask to protect the teacher.

That was Maria Mavrides, a professor in the Early Childhood Education Program at Hunter College.

Emily Schutz, Columbia Radio News


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