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Masks will be optional in Riverhead schools starting Wednesday.

The Riverhead Central School District Board of Education unanimously voted to remove the mask requirement from its reopening plan when New York State’s mandate ends on Wednesday.

The motion was approved during a special meeting on Monday night, the day after Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the mandate would be lifted on Wednesday, March 2. The reopening plan, with the mask mandates in place, was adopted 4-3 in August, days before Hochul instituted the statewide mandate, and was a subject of contention both among parents and between district trustees. 

A Feb. 8 vote to remove the mandate from the reopening plan failed to garner majority board support.

“I’m glad that we’ve finally gotten around to lifting this unlawful mandate. It’s too bad though she [Hochul] had to play political games and not already done it by today, instead of Wednesday,” Trustee Christopher Dorr said tonight.

“I’ve never been in support of not having an optional choice for our students and staff,” Trustee Therese Zuhoski said. “And I really, in my opinion, don’t believe that we need to vote on this because it was something come down by the state but I do understand that our reentry plan caused a challenge here, which I did not support. So I am in full support of masks optional and I’m glad our community is going to be able to make their own choice.”

“I hope the choice going forward — no matter the choice of wearing a mask or not wearing a mask — I hope that everyone is treated with respect and kindness, and respect their choices going forward. And I’m just happy that we can move forward in a new direction and put this behind us,” Trustee Brian Connelly said.

“For me it’s a yes,” school board President Laurie Downs said. “And thank God this is over.”

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]