Schools can reopen, governor says

Schools can reopen, governor says
School illness (Source: MGN)

ALBANY, N.Y. (WWNY) - All New York schools are clear to reopen.

“All school districts can open in the state,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a conference call Friday. “Every region is below the threshold that we have established.”

In July, the governor said schools can open if their region has a coronavirus infection rate below 5 percent.

Since then, the statewide rate has hovered around 1 percent. The north country’s rate has consistently been about half that.

The governor said officials will watch the infection rates between now and when schools open. If it spikes, he said, schools will not open.

The governor said he’s directing districts to post on their websites by next week their plans for remote learning, virus testing, and contact tracing.

“These three areas are the highly questioned areas in almost all school districts,” he said, noting he has received questions about all three from parents and teachers across the state.

He also directed schools to hold online sessions with parents and teachers to address the concerns of both groups. Most districts are required to have at least three sessions with parents and one with teachers between now and August 21.

Of the 749 districts in the state, 127 have not submitted their reopening plans to the Department of Health.

The DOH will review the plans that have been submitted over the weekend and will notify districts if their plans are incomplete or deficient.

New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta released the following statement about Cuomo’s announcement:

“We have been clear all along: Health and safety is the most important consideration in reopening school buildings. Viral infection rates tell only one part of the story. Many educators and parents have anxiety about local school district reopening plans that have been submitted to the state — if they even have been yet, with 127 districts that didn’t bother to submit them by last week and 50 considered incomplete by the state. Among the concerns that remain is the lack of guidance on specific procedures for closure, testing and contact tracing in the event of a COVID-19 case in a school. Right now, there may be some areas where parents and educators are confident in their district’s plan, but in many others, we know they aren’t. No district should consider themselves ready to reopen buildings until their plans are safe and everything in that plan meant to keep the school community safe is implemented. Being safe means parents and teachers must be confident in the reopening plan, and it is welcome news that districts must meet with parents and teachers this month. We’re thankful the governor agrees that forcing people back into the classroom when they feel their health is threatened is not what should happen. So if districts need to phase in the reopening of buildings, so be it. We must err on the side of caution. Period.”

The public education advocacy organization Alliance for Quality Education released the following statement:

“The lack of leadership from state leaders and failure to provide adequate resources to schools at this time has forced an impossible decision on parents, students and educators, pitting their family’s health, their economic security and their children’s futures against each other,” said Jasmine Gripper, executive director, Alliance for Quality Education.

“School leaders are doing the best they can with the resources they have, but the lack of funding from New York State has created an unacceptable situation where districts are unable to adequately provide for students’ educational, health and safety needs.

“Schools serving predominantly Black, Brown and low-income students, which have been chronically underfunded by New York State, now face even greater challenges. Districts need additional funding in order to reduce class sizes, purchase technology and train educators in new teaching practices.”

“New York has not used the time since school buildings closed in March to make a more informed, thoughtful, or careful plan about how to reopen schools, nor to creatively address the critical issues that emerged in remote learning settings in the spring.

“If we had invested in remote learning at the outset, we would have been able to better prepare for more equitable access to remote education now, providing the necessary training and materials for families, students and educators to thrive. Every school district is planning for remote learning in some capacity, yet many families and children still lack devices, high speed internet, and essential services. With just a few weeks left until schools reopen, we are scrambling to resolve issues that we have been aware of for months.

“Without resources, New York’s most vulnerable students will lose out on the coming school year — a year of education, opportunity and development that we will never be able to replace. The New York State legislature must act now to raise taxes on the ultra rich to invest in our public schools. Failing to act now will set us back decades, baking the pandemic’s inequitable impacts into the fabric of our society, yet again failing to meet the needs of Black, Brown and low-income children.”

Schools have been closed since March, when infection rates were beginning to spike in many areas across the state.

Districts were forced to scramble to decide how to teach students remotely and also how to provide the nutrition and counseling services many students rely on.

Many north country students were hampered by a general lack of affordable and reliable high-speed internet.

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