(WETM) — Many children, teachers, and staff are back in school full-time in the Capital Region. For most districts, this is the first time students will be in the classroom every weekday since the start of the COVID pandemic. While teachers and students open their books for the first time this fall, legislators and parents continued debating if they should wear masks.

Residents are frustrated by recently released COVID-19 guidance for schools. Gov. Kathy Hochul hinted at a masking policy prior to her taking office on August 24. Just days later, the New York Department of Health issued guidance that required masks.

The goal for all school districts, teachers, lawmakers, and parents alike is to continue educating future leaders while maintaining safety. The debate is how to achieve it. Some parents are taking to the streets to protest mandates. “I would just like us to be able to parent our own children,” said Marissa Stevens.

Superintendents must follow New York Public Health law, which can be amended by the Dr. Howard Zucker, the Commissioner of the Department of Health (DOH). Earlier this year, executive powers were removed from the governor’s office amid scandals involving former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Although district leaders must follow health law, some criticize DOH’s timing, saying it was too close to the beginning of the academic year. “If I was Dr. Zucker, a lot more beforehand and explained what was going on,” said Dr. Thomas J. Douglas, Horseheads School District Superintendent. “We are all for freedoms, but most importantly, we are here for the health and safety of our students.”

Teachers were also caught off guard, saying it’s harder to plan in a short time frame. Their primary goal is keeping students in-person and safe. “Even though it came out at the late stages, I don’t think it was the wrong decision,” said teacher Dora Leland. “If we don’t have the masking in place and if we don’t hit that vaccination threshold, my fear is that we’re going to be back to where we were in the late fall of 2020, which was remote.”