(CNN)A state judge struck down New York state’s mask mandate Monday, ruling the governor and state Department of Health did not have the authority to enact such a mandate without approval from the legislature.
Despite the ruling, the state Education Department says schools “must continue to follow the mask rule.”
“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,” the Education Department said in a statement posted by school districts across the state and shared with CNN affiliate WABC.
The strife marks yet another intrastate conflict between state officials and schools over mask mandates, one of several fault lines in the broad debate about civic obligations and freedoms in the Covid-19 pandemic.
How the New York mask mandate went down
New York’s state legislature passed a bill in March limiting the governor’s ability to issue emergency orders.
Then as coronavirus case numbers rose in December, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a temporary mask mandate that required New Yorkers to wear a mask in all indoor public spaces unless businesses implement a vaccine requirement. State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett issued a determination solidifying the requirement.
Despite criticisms from some local officials, the measure was extended two weeks past its initial end date of January 15. Violators face fines of up to $1,000 and other civil and criminal penalties.
But in an opinion Monday, Nassau County Supreme Court Judge Thomas Rademaker argued that because New York was no longer under a state of emergency when the mask mandate was announced, the governor and health commissioner did not have the additional authority to order such a mandate, adding the mandate is now unenforceable.
“While the intentions of Commissioner Bassett and Governor Hochul appear to be well aimed squarely at doing what they believe is the right to protect the citizens of New York State, they must take their case to the State Legislature,” Rademaker wrote.
“Should the State Legislature, representative of and voted into office by the citizens of New York, after publicly informed debate, decide to enact laws requiring face coverings in schools and other public places then the Commissioner would likely be well grounded in properly promulgated and enacted rules to supplement such laws.”
The governor vows to fight the ruling
Hochul said she is working to reverse the decision immediately.
“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,” she said Monday in a statement.
“We strongly disagree with this ruling, and we are pursuing every option to reverse this immediately.”
Rademaker’s decision was only about whether the mandate was properly enacted, he wrote.
“To be clear, this Court does not intend this decision in any way to question or otherwise opine on the efficacy, need, or requirement of masks as a means or tool in dealing with the COVID-19 virus,” the judge wrote. “This Court decides only the issues of whether the subject rule was properly enacted and if so whether same can be enforced.”
Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, who took office this month, signed an executive order allowing school boards in the densely populated Long Island county to determine if schoolchildren should be required to wear masks.
After the judge’s ruling, Blakeman tweeted: “This is a major win for students & parents.”
CNN’s Holly Yan contributed to this report.