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New York appeals court ruling strikes down mask mandate

New York State officials have appealed a decision reached late Monday by a Nassau County judge, who ruled the COVID-19 mask mandate Gov. Kathy Hochul issued last month was unenforceable.

Despite the ruling, some school districts posted letters Tuesday telling parents their kids still needed to wear the facial coverings.

“We received notification from our State Education Department late last night that the State Mask Mandate in Schools is still required,” Lackawanna City School District Superintendent Keith Lewis said in a letter posted on the district’s website. “We will continue to update you as we get more information.”

Hochul instituted the mandate Dec. 10 as the omicron surge was in the early stages in the state. That order, which took effect Dec. 13, was based on the determination of acting State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett. It required masks to be worn in all public venues unless that establishment had implemented a COVID vaccination mandate.

The initial order was due to expire Jan. 15, but on New Year’s Eve, the state extended the mandate to Feb. 1.

That led to a lawsuit filed by 14 parents in Nassau County.

In a six-page ruling Monday, Supreme Court Judge Thomas Rademaker said Hochul’s order was well-intentioned. Still, he could not find any law passed by the state legislature giving either Bassett or Hochul the power to enact such an order.

Rademaker noted lawmakers last March moved to limit the powers of then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo from issuing orders during a public emergency. That law covers Hochul and future administrations, too.

“Should the State Legislature, representatives of and voted into office by the citizens of New York, after publicly informed debate, decide to enact laws requiring face coverings in schools and other public places then the Commissioner would likely be well grounded in properly promulgated and enacted rules to supplement such laws,” the judge wrote.

Hochul on Monday evening vowed a prompt appeal, and later that evening, Attorney General Letitia James informed the court it would take the case to the Court of Appeals.

Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said in a statement Monday night that it’s time for Hochul and other Democrats to end the mandates.

“New Yorkers are fed up – and they are counting on us to return to a system of governance based on collaborative decision making, guidance, checks and balances,” he said in a statement Monday night.

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