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New Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman Makes More Waves, Signs Order Giving Public Schools Mask Mandate Option

MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Nassau County's newly elected executive, Republican Bruce Blakeman, signed an executive order Thursday giving public schools the option to mandate masks.

It's a move that runs counter to state regulations, and is being called illegal and irresponsible by the governor.

"It's a very simple message. The message is: the wearing of masks is optional," Blakeman said.

Nassau's new leader has wasted no time making waves.

"Our county is larger than nine states and we don't need people in Albany telling us what we should be doing here in Nassau County," Blakeman said.

And with that, Blakeman signed three controversial executive orders that rule out a mask mandate for public school children, county workers, and indoor places or businesses, CBS2's Jennifer McLogan reported.

"He had the courage to say what many of us feel, that we live in America and things should be choice," Old Brookville homeowner Catherine Gugliucci said.

COVID VACCINE

Massapequa had been among those fighting the state mask requirement in schools that was instituted last year.

"As a school board, we need to meet and discuss it, but at least we know that we have Executive Blakeman behind us," board member Jeanine Caramore said.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, however, said not so fast, and took a shot at the new county executive.

"People who have more experience in county government would know that state government, state laws prevail. The state Education Department has direct control over funding of schools," Hochul said.

The United Teachers Union also pushed back. Democratic leaders called the mask directive dangerous.

"It's absolutely irresponsible, especially at a time when we see COVID is on the rise on Long Island," Jovanni Ortiz said, referring to the fact that Nassau and Suffolk counties combined have highest number of COVID cases in the state, among young students.

"I've talked to our attorney here in BOCES. I also talked to the senior deputy commissioner in the state Education Department," Nassau BOCES Superintendent Dr. Robert Dillon said. "I don't think the county executive has that authority."

"I do not believe a school district can legally ignore a directive from the governor, nor will I recommend to the BOE in Jericho that we change our mask-wearing policies," Jericho Superintendent Hank Grishman added.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Former Nassau County Executive Laura Curran signed no orders, but had supported schools making their own decisions.

"We want people to evaluate their own circumstances and make the decision that's best for them," county Health Commissioner Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein said.

With two-thirds of all hospitalizations in Nassau being among the unvaccinated, Eisenstein said the focus should be on vaccinations and boosters.

Long Island residents that spoke to CBS2 weren't exactly supportive of Blakeman's move.

"I tend to side with science," one person said.

"It not only protects you, it protects others," another said.

"It's not going to unify us and, unfortunately, it's all political right now," another added.

The county will be doubling handouts of free COVID test kits and opening free vaccination pods over the weekend.

EMERGENCY COMPONENT - LOCAL

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