Preschool directors hoping the youngest can lose masks

Now that masks are optional for children and teachers starting in kindergarten, the only kids — in fact the only humans — still required to be masked are kids ages 2 to 4 and their caregivers. And a lot of parents and now teaching professionals are frustrated.

There have been a couple of rallies to unmask the youngest kids (kids under 2 do not have to be masked anyway) and a few parents have gotten in touch with me in support of the idea. And a couple of the local preschool directors have joined a citywide effort to lobby the mayor.

Kids under 5 are of course the last unvaccinated cohort, and there’s debate over whether they are experiencing any delays — emotional or language-based — from mask wearing. (See a report here from the NIH and a story here from The New Republic.) But it still seems unfair, and it just seems like it’s time. A friend who is a school psychologist said there were students she has worked with twice a week for the past year whom she didn’t recognize when the masks came down.

Valeska von Schirmeister, the owner of Playgarden Prep on Franklin, argues that there are practical and pedagogical reasons to lose the masks for this last group. “At this time we believe the benefits of using masks do not outweigh the issues they create. In our schools more than half the children, their families and staff already had Covid recently, as most of NYC did during Omicron,” she said. “Using masks clearly limits how children interact, socialize and learn with their peers and teachers.

“Each parent, each classroom, each school should be able to determine if the benefits of wearing masks outweigh the issues they create based on their unique situation,” she added. “There should not be a general mandate that only singles out the youngest children in the city.”

Parents at Buckle My Show on Worth are also getting frustrated, especially since there’s no word from the city when this will be reevaluated, said Genvieve Johnson, director of operations there. In her weekly newsletter, she sent parents ways to contact the city to weigh in. (See below) “If allowed, Buckle My Shoe Preschool would support parent choice and go mask optional. We would support each family’s decision and believe it’s a time to show understanding for each individual at this time.”

And the directors of Tribeca Community School, Reade Street Prep, My Little School and Downtown Little School, along with another 20 or so citywide, signed on to a letter sent to the mayor, citing some good medical statistics:

  • children under 4 are at an exceedingly low risk of serious COVID illness, with extremely low mortality rates.
  • hospitalization rates for unvaccinated 2 to 4-year-olds are lower than vaccinated adults, despite no vaccination being available to them.
  • children under 1 are immediately admitted to emergency rooms when presenting with a fever and are not relevant to this discussion on masks for preschool-age children

“We know firsthand that younger kids face serious drawbacks while masking, despite the limited public health benefit, including negative impacts on learning, social and speech development,” they wrote to the mayor. “Most countries around the world have chosen not to mask those under 5 in the first place and the World Health Organization has always recommended against it. Furthermore, the CDC also does not require students to wear masks (no age is specified) when the Community Level is considered ‘low.’

“Since you understand and often discuss the need to expand early childhood education and consistently advocate for investment in programs like ours, we urge you to reconsider the continued masking requirement for our youngest children.”

Fair enough.

Councilmember Chris Marte:
Mayor Eric Adams:
Health Commissioner of the NYC Department of Health: (I am guessing at the email since Dave Chokshi stepped down on Monday)
Manhattan Department of Health Bureau of Childcare: or 646-632-6305



  1. Would love to hear how they plan to prepare for the next surge. Put the masks back on?

  2. There are preschool directors who are not signing this letter and for very valid reasons. The quick spread of viruses amongst this population is well documented. As the city faces a potential second surge of omicron and numbers are rising again, it seems premature to remove masks from this extremely vulnerable population. While children under 4 may be at low risk for extreme illness, they are not immune to this virus nor are the long term side effects of this virus known. As a parent and educator, I have no issue masking my young child for the time being. Especially since I have seen first hand the explosion in cases at school since the mask mandate has been removed for my older child.

    • Do you honestly think a 3 year old knows how to properly wear a mask that can actually help spread viruses? They would all need k-95 masks, fitted by an adult, that never get fidgeted with once, all day.

      At this point, the masks have caused more damage than the virus at these age groups. These kids need to see faces for learning and social clues. I’d feel sorry for the kids you “educate”

      • Kids are better at wearing masks than the majority of adults, that’s for sure.

        • Kids in general? Maybe. 3 year olds – are you kidding me?
          I have a couple of those at home so speaking from first hand experience, not from a soapbox.

    • Goldie, Your comment is valued.

  3. Reads like they are in a far right propaganda bubble lacking any true solid public health facts. And lacking real scientific research updates on virus progression. Sad.

  4. Death rate for 0-4 age group from Covid, using only reported case counts, is just one hundredth of a percent. Covid is far less dangerous to minors and this is factually confirmed by data. Adults can get boosters and have no reason to fear transmission by children.

    Those who think this is actually still some sort of major issue need to take a chill pill. It isn’t April 2020; most adults in NYC are vaxxed and have moved on, it’s unhealthy to keep ruining life over something which is no longer a serious threat

    • When the four families in New York lost a 0-4 child to Covid this January (look it up), I’m sure they were comforted when the doctors said, “your child died, but Covid is far less dangerous to minors and this is factually confirmed by data”

  5. Some facts:

    Covid hospitalization rates among children aged 4 and under were FIVE TIMES higher during the peak of Omicron compared with Delta, according to a new CDC report.

    A quarter of children with COVID-19 symptoms develop “long COVID,” according to data pooled from 21 studies previously carried out in Europe, Asia, Australia and South America.

    No Underlying Conditions in 63% of Young Kids Hospitalized During Omicron

    Once again, America is in denial about signs of a fresh Covid wave

    Can all children wear masks? No. But why not let those who can do so – not to mention protecting the immunocompromised, etc,

  6. A new CDC report says Omicron hospitalized infants and children ages 0-4 at 5x the rate of Delta.

  7. The data from the last surge showed that the masks did almost nothing to prevent transmission whatsoever among kids.

    If you’re in the camp of following the science and data, these masks should have been ditched at schools a long time ago. Focus on getting the population vaccination and booster rates up, and don’t push visible yet ineffective efforts that aren’t based on the latest data.

    • “ It’s understandable why there might be confusion, says Thomas Murray, a pediatrician at the Yale University School of Medicine. There’s no question that masking reduces the spread of disease, but the evidence is less cut and dry about how masking affects kids emotionally and developmentally over the age of two. To answer that definitively would require that researchers asking people to shed their masks for a randomized trial, the gold standard in science, which would be unethical. So, most masking research is based on retrospective real-life observations that can be more easily cherry-picked to argue one side or the other of the debate over mask mandates.

      “But we do have this human experiment that’s been going on with kids wearing masks at school, and we know that we haven’t seen those fears of health risks realized,” says Theresa Guilbert, a pediatric pulmonologist who is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine.

      She and other experts say most evidence suggests that masking doesn’t harm children—and that it benefits them in more ways than one. Not only do masks protect kids from COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases, but studies show that schools with mask policies in place are more likely to stay open, which decades of research show is particularly critical for kids’ mental health and development.

      Here’s what the science says about kids and masks.”

      • “… Masks had also been shown to reduce airborne respiratory particles from entering and exiting people’s faces. At least one early investigation, published in April 2020, showed masks could block viral particles exhaled by people older than 11.

        “Masking does physically block these aerosols,” Dr. Jennifer Dowd, an associate professor of demography and population health at the University of Oxford, told Gothamist in August 2021, after Zweig’s article was published.

        The body of work supporting masks has only grown since then.

        Massachusetts school districts found coronavirus attack rates were 10 times higher with unmasked interactions versus masked ones, according to a preliminary report released in September. A nationwide survey of more than 6,600 childcare professionals, published in late January, reported that child masking was associated with a 13% reduction in facility closures.

        And a California study released on February 4th showed that mask usage with indoor settings, including at schools, reduced the odds of the positive COVID result by 44%, on average. Higher-quality masks — such as N95s and KN95 — lowered the chances by 83%.…”

  8. Thank you for writing about this important issue and the fact that our youngest are consistently being asked to shoulder the burden of this pandemic, for the longest time ostensibly to support the elderly, and now ostensibly to protect them, be it by keeping schools closed or keeping restrictions only on them.

    Putting aside the question of whether masks work or not, what to do in surges, or the cost and benefit analysis of masking for different populations, particularly children who have incredibly important developmental milestones in a very short period of time that is their childhood, it is imperative to stress that at this point in time, NYC is an outlier in the state, in the country and in the world on this issue. The WHO has never recommended masking toddlers, the European CDC has never recommended masking under 12 and for the past two years, toddlers in almost the entire rest of the world never wore masks, ever.. Now that NY state has lifted the school mask mandate, as have neighboring states, NYC Is the only city still doing this in the region. Even the CDC now no longer recommends restrictions on toddlers be any different than the rest of the population, that is to say their levels of recommended restrictions based on metrics are the same for all.

    So how are we here even justifying – by cherry picking data, by labeling those who disagree as right-wing nuts, including pre-school directors in our very, very progressive neighborhood! – being the only city in the state, in the region, one of few left in the country, that was already the only country in the world, with a policy of putting a mask on a two year old. We cannot possibly really believe that keeping masks on toddlers is an effective measure to slow the spread for society. Simply put, they should not be the ONLY ones with restrictions today.

  9. Hi Tribeca citizen,
    Why was my previous comment not allowed?
    Thank you,

  10. there are many high quality studies including one from brown university that’s in the peer review process now that show a significant decline in pre-school students’ social and cognitive development since the masking began.

    the pros and cons of mask wearing have been debated since this began but the overwhelming consensus at this point is that with children the harm greatly outweighs the benefit.