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NEW YORK — A Nassau County Supreme Court judge has ruled that Gov. Kathy Hochul's student mask mandate is unconstitutional — but Hochul said she plans to fight the decision.
According to the Jan. 24 decision by Judge Thomas Rademaker, the law was "promulgated and enacted unlawfully by an executive branch state agency and therefore void and unenforceable as a matter of law."
Several Long Island districts sent out letters Monday night saying that masks are optional on Tuesday, including Sachem, East Islip and Plainedge.
The decision also said that it does not "opine on the efficacy, need or requirement of masks as a means or tool in dealing with the COVID-19 virus." The issue is only whether the rule was properly enacted, the decision said.
Also, the issue at hand is not a challenge to any executive order issued by Hochul, the decision said, but is a challenge to a "rule" enacted by New York State Commissioner of Health Dr. Mary Bassett and enforced by Hochul.
Ronald Masera, superintendent of the Center Moriches School District, tweeted a copy of the appeal that he said keeps the mask mandate in all New York State schools in place
The decision came after new Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman signed a trio of executive orders allowing school districts to end the mask mandates if they chose to do so.
"A judge declared that Gov. Hochul's mask mandate is unconstitutional, deeming mandates invalid statewide," Blakeman wrote on Facebook Monday, calling the decision "a huge win." He added: "If you want to wear a mask, we support you. If you don't, it's your constitutional right."
Hochul also spoke out. "My responsibility as governor is to protect New Yorkers throughout this public health crisis, and these measures help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. We strongly disagree with this ruling, and we are pursuing every option to reverse this immediately."
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R- Shirley) weighed in as well on Twitter.
"NY Supreme Court has just struck down Hochul admin's statewide mask mandate," said Zeldin, who is running for governor. "Honored to have fought with small biz owners, parents, elected like @NassauExec & many more for common sense, freedom & science."
The State Education Department sent a letter to school superintendents statewide, stating that "schools must continue to follow the mask rule," according to a PIX 11 report.
“It is SED’s understanding that the Department of Health will appeal the Nassau County Supreme Court decision, which will result in an automatic stay that will unambiguously restore the mask rule until such time as an appellate court issues a further ruling. Therefore, schools must continue to follow the mask rule," the post said.
Although the number of new positive cases on Long Island was down 75 percent this week, Hochul continued to urge parents to vaccinate their children, especially those in the 5-11 age group.
When asked about the "challenge" to her authority after the Massapequa Board of Education's vote to end the mask mandate in all schools effective Feb. 21, following Blakeman's executive order, Hochul spoke out.
"I'm not a pushover," she said. "Personally, as a parent, I find it phenomenal that apparently, people are willing to play politics with children's lives."
She added that once the state mask mandate lapses, no school district will be expected to follow those protocols. The measure could be lifted before Feb. 21, she said, adding that she is using the element of time to assess the situation.
"One of the best things I look forward to is the day I can say the requirements are suspended and that they did the job they were meant to do and kept New Yorkers safe," Hochul said.
When asked about whether the mask or vaccination proof requirement for businesses would be suspended on Feb. 1, Hochul thanked the businesses that did the right thing and kept staff and customers safe, and said she'd have an answer on Jan. 31.