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Coxsackie-Athens parents, students demand district stop enforcing state mask mandate

Feb 13, 2022 1:00 am

Andrea Macko is reporting for Porcupine Soup angry, frustrated, and emotional parents and students packed the February 10, Coxsackie-Athens Board of Education meeting to demand the district stop enforcing the state’s mask mandate. The standing-room-only crowd in the Coxsackie Elementary School cafeteria lasted more than four hours, with the mask issue taking up a significant portion of the meeting. District officials say their hands are tied and disobeying the state’s order could have serious consequences. Board President Michael Donahue started the meeting at 7 p.m., holding off until all audience members put masks on, pursuant to state law. “We still have to live with the mask mandate from the governor,” Donahue said. “I’m sorry, I know we are in our third year of this. Nobody likes it.” Audience members shouted and threatened to unseat members at future elections. Some parents also vowed legal action against the district. “Before you are a group of parents — and there are more — who are willing to take the school back and take over the job that you are failing at immensely,” said Tiffany Russo, one of several parents to address the board. Several parents related stories of children being threatened or bullied for removing or pulling their masks down, especially during sports practice or competitions. District Superintendent Randy Squier said that staff members shaming students over masks “is not acceptable, and you have got to let us know [about this]. ....There is no excuse for a teacher making a kid feel uncomfortable for not wearing a mask,” Squier said. After a shouting match ensued, Donahue paused the meeting for 45 minutes. When the board returned most of the audience members were gone and Squier made a statement about what could happen should the district not follow the state’s mask rules. He said the administrators could lose their licenses, and the board, because they would have violated their oath of office, could be removed by the Commissioner of Education. And he said, there would be a negligent supervision liability risk. "Our insurance carrier could say 'you are on your own,'" Squier said. And the Department of Health could fine the district $1,000 a day. “We are obligated to follow this,” he said. "We do not make these rules. We are tired of masks, too.” That night, the board approved a letter to Governor Kathy Hochul and Department of Health Commissioner Mary T. Bassett asking the state to “consider working with school leaders to develop an off-ramp to move forward.” Read the full story at porcupinesoup [dot] com.