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Lack of state guidance leaves local educators frustrated before start of school year

Published: Aug. 2, 2021 at 3:31 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - There’s a month to go before kids are back in the classroom. What educators felt at this time last year, they’re feeling again this year: frustration and uncertainty.

It’s deja vu for Watertown City School District Superintendent Patti LaBarr.

“It is like going back to March of last year, March of 2020 when the pandemic started and then guidance was coming out just at the last minute,” she said.

LaBarr says the state hasn’t seemed to learn its lesson in giving schools the time to prepare for what will likely be another COVID school year.

“As each day passes and no guidance is forthcoming, it’s been a little bit stressful,” she said.

As the highly contagious delta variant continues to spread, the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, says masks should be worn by everyone in schools regardless of vaccination status.

On Monday, Governor Cuomo gave no indication of how the state will implement these guidelines. He simply gave his opinion about what some schools across the state should do.

“I believe school districts should say today, teachers, vaccine or test if you are in a CDC high-risk area,” said Cuomo.

LaBarr says opinions are great, but educators are pleading for facts.

“I think we’ve asked for it, we’ve begged for it, we’ve advocated for it,” she said.

General Brown Superintendent Barbara Case is hoping the state adopts the new guidance, which gives districts’ space to make their own decisions about certain recommendations. But, regardless, the district is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure kids are in the classroom in-person, 5-days a week.

LaBarr says the Watertown school district has a plan for any scenario.

“You know, good thing there’s 26 letters in the alphabet because we may need to at some point come up with plans A through Z,” she said.

Right now, parents, teachers, Case and LaBarr, will have to wait until the Department of Health comes out with its guidance before making a definitive plan.

However, we do to know BOCES leaders will be meeting with the state education department Tuesday, where this topic will likely be brought up.

In a statement to 7 News, a spokesperson for the Department of Health wrote, “We must get a handle on the Delta variant so kids can get back to school in the most normal way possible. This latest announcement from the CDC reinforces the fact that public health metrics are constantly changing, and it is difficult to predict what will be most effective for schools this far in advance. New York State continues to review the new CDC guidance and daily data outcomes, communicate with health and education stakeholders across the State and will ultimately make our recommendations for the fall based on what is in the best interest of public health.”

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