Credit: World Journal

Some parents misinterpreted a DOE policy about students wearing face masks to school. The masks are not banned. (Credit: World Journal)

Read the original story in Chinese at World Journal
Translated and condensed by Rong Xiaoqing

A letter sent by the Department of Education (DOE) to parents reminding them to take precautions against the novel coronavirus triggered a rumor in the Chinese community that the DOE bans students from wearing face masks to school – a misinterpretation that local leaders are trying to set straight.

New York Residents Alliance (NYRA), a community based organization composed of mainly Chinese parents in New York, held a press conference on Jan. 31 to debunk the disinformation.

Fei Ling, a representative of the NYRA, said rumors have been rampant on WeChat and other social media platforms since the epidemic started, including the false story of the DOE’s “masks ban.” While masks were not mentioned in the letter sent out by the DOE, Ling said confusion arose because of an education department rule that requires students who wear masks to take them off when they’re entering the school building so security guards can confirm their identities. Once they’re inside, they can decide whether to put on the masks back on. Ling said the NYRA supports this rule.

In some cases, Chinese students appeared to have been discriminated or bullied because they wore a mask, which the organization says may be due to cultural differences in the U.S. around mask-wearing. While many in the Chinese community like to wear masks for prevention and self-protection, in Western culture, they can be seen as a marker of someone carrying an illness themselves, Ling said.

Angela Hu, head of the NYRA, called for parents to follow updates from the Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and elected officials. “Do not frighten yourself by taking and spreading rumors,” she said.

The NYRA also noted there have been no confirmed coronavirus infections in New York City so far. If parents withdraw from important events and rallies to avoid going to public places with high human density, they may inadvertently impair the community’s efforts of fighting for its own rights (NYRA has been active in organizing around education policies such as admissions for the city’s specialized high schools).

“We are fighting against the school Chancellor, and we need to attend the school districts meetings, and we need to vote in the elections,” Hu said.   

Councilmember Peter Koo also attended the press conference, where he stressed to attendees that Flushing is safe, following reports that business in the neighborhood has declined due to coronavirus fears. He called for families to come back to downtown Flushing to shop and dine to help stabilize the local economy. 

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