After Some More Confusion, The Mask Mandate is Back in NY Schools Pending Appeal

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A New York state judge struck down Governor Kathy Hochul’s mask mandate on Monday, January 24, sending schools and businesses scrambling to quickly adjust policies. State Supreme Court Judge Thomas Rademaker, based in Nassau County, decided the mask mandate violated the State Constitution and asserted in his opinion, that the rule amounted to “a law that was promulgated and enacted unlawfully by an Executive branch state agency, and therefore void and unenforceable as a matter of law.”

Judge Rademaker’s decision was, practically, short-lived.  Later that same night, New York City’s Department of Education responded to the ruling, stating the decision had “no immediate effect” on city schools, as mandatory masking has been DOE policy since before the state adopted it. By Tuesday afternoon Justice Robert J. Miller, the state appeals court judge, granted a stay of the lower court’s ruling, effectively allowing the mask rule to go back into effect temporarily.

While it only lasted for 24 hours, Judge Rademaker’s challenge to New York’s mask requirement created instant chaos and confusion. Some New York school districts rushed to make masks optional for both students and teachers while state education officials were telling administrators they should continue enforcing the mask mandate. The MTA also had to quickly reassure riders that the ruling had no effect on the city’s subways and buses, noting that federal regulations required masks on public transit.  To the extent that private businesses take their lead from government action, similar confusion has echoed through the business community as a whole.

The mask mandate is currently extended through February 10 for businesses and February 21 for schools. These legal developments come as Covid-19 cases continue to plummet in New York with confirmed positives declining in all 10 regions. Governor Hochul has stated that all signs are encouraging at this point, but New Yorkers should not lower their guard. “We have a little ways to go. We believe we’re finally turning the corner on this winter wave and we’ll continue preparing for whatever the future brings,” Governor Hochul said as she delivered her Covid briefing from a Bronx hospital earlier this week.

While it’s difficult to predict the immediate future of the mask mandate, New York is certainly not alone and the legal battle over masks and vaccination is a widespread, state-by-state matter.  This is also, frankly, a great battle over the Constitution and the control government has, through the executive branch, to regulate business and life without significant legislative input.

The employment law attorneys at The Boyd Law Group are monitoring these and other changes to the legal landscape and work environment, and stand ready to assist our employee and employer clients in navigating new developments in the law.  Contact us today and “let us take the worry out of your work.”