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February 7, 2022 - 8:15pm

O-A Board of Education sets emergency meeting to prepare for mandate expiration

As a state mask mandate for schools creeps toward its Feb. 21 expiration date, at least one Genesee County school plans to be officially armed.

Oakfield-Alabama Central School has set an emergency Board of Education meeting this week to vote on a resolution regarding masks in schools. The meeting is at 6:45 a.m. Wednesday at the Junior-Senior High School, 7001 Lewiston Road. 

“We’re waiting on a final determination about whether it will be extended or lifted,” Superintendent John Fisgus said to The Batavian Monday. “There’s a lot of advocacy out there …we want some type of end goal in preparation for the possibility for the mandate to be lifted. Our board wants to be proactive. When and if it’s lifted, we will be prepared when it's lifted. Masking will be optional.”

At the beginning of this year, the choice for masking was “split down the middle,” Fisgus said. That has shifted.

“An overwhelming majority want it to be a personal choice,” he said. “I’m not advocating for masks; I’m advocating for personal choice. In the last month or so there’s been a huge movement to lift the mandate and let people decide on their own.” 

The board's resolution reads, in part: “The Board of Education seeks to allow parents and students the freedom to choose whether to wear a mask indoors on school property or on a school bus.” It will give the superintendent the executive power necessary to implement protocols and procedures which allow parents and students the freedom to choose whether or not to wear a mask within and on school property. 

This move also includes the authority to modify school protocols “if the need arises due to future health concerns, emergency situations and/or necessary means for the health and safety of students and school staff alike.”

Oakfield-Alabama was one of eight Genesee County public school districts to sign a letter for New York State Governor Kathy Hochul requesting that each district be granted authority to create and enforce its own COVID-19 rules, rather than being told what to do by the state. 

Batavia City Schools Superintendent Jason Smith sent the letter on behalf of Alexander, Byron-Bergen, Elba, Le Roy, Oakfield-Alabama, Pavilion, and Pembroke school districts. Although there’s been a strong focus on whether or not to wear masks, the letter did not have that emphasis, Smith said. 

“It’s not just about masks, it’s how schools are run,” he said. “I’d say for every 10 emails, at least eight are for local control about the masks, and are strongly opposed to the mask mandate. We’re engaged in conversations, and listening to the parents and to the medical folks. We’ll be ready when the time comes to have a plan.”

The state mandate is set to expire on Feb. 21. Batavia’s Board of Education meeting may be a venue for further discussions, Smith said. It’s set for 6 p.m. Feb. 17 at Batavia High School’s library, 260 State St., Batavia. 

In other school news, Le Roy Central and Pembroke Central school districts have board meetings this week. Le Roy’s meeting is at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Wolcott Street Elementary School memorial auditorium and includes a budget presentation for the 2022-23 school year.

Likewise, Pembroke’s agenda includes a budget presentation for its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Jr/Sr High School Library Media Center, routes 5 and 77 in Corfu.

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