Statewide school mask mandate officially lifted
It was a big day for schools across Long Island.
Masks were optional in the classroom for the first time in almost two years and it was a moment many students and parents have been waiting for.
Now that Gov. Kathy Hochul has lifted the mandate, schools across the state are trying to navigate the new normal.
Questions remain on what the mandate means for social distancing guidelines, riding the bus and athletics. Officials say they are still in talks with the state about the details.
Gov. Hochul cited the dramatic drop in COVID-19 cases and strong vaccination rates for the decision and is leaving it up to the local schools to make decisions on masks.
"This is what they have been asking for, is to have that local control, but we stood firm until we knew the numbers were down, hospitalizations were down, pediatric cases were down," says Gov. Hochul.
School officials say it was a "wonderful experience" seeing the changes inside the classrooms.
"First of all, I am getting to see children's faces and I haven't really gotten to see them in a long, long time," says Drexel Avenue Elementary school principal Dr. Wanda Toledo. "I also got to see some teachers' faces and I haven't gotten to see them in a while."
Students also seemed to enjoy a return to normal.
"I like to see people's faces, I like to see who I am looking at," says fifth grader Naeva Jackson.
Some, like fifth grader Elijah Darko, are still wearing masks. Elijah is wearing his to protect his brother who is in the hospital.
Hochul also said there will be a no bully policy in effect, which means if someone wants to wear a mask, you are expected to respect that.