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Schools can ditch masks when outdoors

Section X to eliminate athlete mask rule; local Section VII districts can, too

Lake Placid pitcher Grace Crawford delivers a throw to the plate during the second inning in a home game against Saranac Lake on Monday, May 17. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

After a weekend of mixed messages on mask-wearing at schools, Gov. Andrew Cuomo released an official guidance on Tuesday allowing districts to choose to lift mask requirements for students and staff when they are outdoors.

As playoffs begin tonight, all of the school districts within Section X athletics, which includes Tupper Lake, will no longer require masks at outdoor athletic events.

Students competing in Section VII athletics — including Saranac Lake, Lake Placid, Keene and AuSable Valley — do not have to mask up when competing outdoors at schools that adopt new state regulations, but if they travel to districts still requiring masks, they may have to wear them there.

Section VII Executive Director Matt Walentuk said Tuesday night that the section never mandated masks for its spring season, so this change from the state is one each district can make but does not affect the section itself.

Walentuk said several schools have signed on to remove masks during outdoor games. He said it’s up to the host school to communicate their mask expectations to visiting schools.

Tri-Lakes districts

School superintendents in Tupper Lake and Lake Placid said both districts have adopted the new outdoor no-mask guidance.

Masks and distancing are still required when inside or on buses.

Saranac Lake Central School District Superintendent Diane Fox said the school board will vote on the guidance at its meeting tonight. She said committees with community and staff representatives support the new guidance.

“We’re getting to the end, and this is all good news for next year,” Fox said.

Tupper Lake Central School District Superintendent Russ Bartlett said he also looks forward the removal of more coronavirus restrictions, which Cuomo has promised will come when 70% of New York adults are at least partially vaccinated.

“Any relief we get is relief,” Bartlett said.

Section X

With Section X’s new guidance in mind, mask requirements will be dropped for all athletes, coaches, officials, event personnel and spectators at outdoor events.

There will also no longer be a two-spectator limit per athlete, as required before. However, everyone is still encouraged to maintain 6 feet of distance from people outside of their household, and school districts will still need to follow rules for capacity limits at events.

“With the weather getting warmer, we’re all glad to be able to get rid of masks during games,” said Section X Executive Director Carl Normandin.

Section VII

As of Tuesday evening, administrators from schools in Section VII were still waiting to hear final guidance from the section, but they also don’t have to wait on the section to start unmasking their own athletes.

“There’s a bit of a hierarchy in that the districts override the section,” Fox said.

She said districts in the section have tried to have a unified plan throughout the pandemic. Lake Placid Central School District Superintendent Roger Catania said Section VII officials were asking districts their thoughts on Tuesday, trying to find a consensus. Catania and Fox both hoped the districts will all agree to ditch the masks for outdoor sports.

“Especially as the weather gets warmer, they’re trying to perform at their highest level at the end of the season,” Catania said. “Given the increased safety, I think it’s time to allow our student athletes to play without their masks.”

“I say we follow the science,” Saranac Lake Athletics Director Eric Bennett said. “If the science says it’s safe, then let’s do it.”

In the meantime, districts have been reaching agreements about masks before starting games or meets.

Catania said he was at a Saranac Lake-versus-Plattsburgh track meet in Saranac Lake on Tuesday afternoon — his son runs for Saranac Lake — and was seeing runners with masks. He said Lake Placid Athletic Director John Burdick was coordinating with Beekmantown officials before their track meet at the Lake Placid horse show grounds later on Tuesday.

“Right now it’s a game-by-game situation,” Catania.

He said they’d try to match what the other team is doing.

Fox and Bennett both said this year they’ve played under whatever the host school’s rules are.

(UPDATE: This article has been updated to provide guidance on Section VII sports mask wearing.)

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