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Without state guidance, local school districts work with county health departments on fall reopening plans

WWNY Local educators react to state guidelines to reopen schools
WWNY Local educators react to state guidelines to reopen schools
Published: Aug. 11, 2021 at 4:27 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Just last week, local school districts learned they wouldn’t be getting any guidance about how to reopen in the fall.

It was a disappointment to the head of the State Education Department, who sent a letter to Health Commissioner, Howard Zucker, that said there’s an urgent need for timely advice and supervision flowing from the State Department of Health, to local and school officials.

Now, local schools will rely on each other, and county health departments to try and figure out the best path forward, with the goal to get kids back in the classroom full-time and safely.

It came as a surprise last week when the State Health Department said it would not be releasing any school reopening guidance, leaving big decisions to local officials.

But districts like Copenhagen Central are now embracing it.

“I like the idea that we have control over what we want to do with our student population, said Copenhagen Superintendent Scott Connell. “I think a lot of decisions last year were made for all 700 schools and we are not all the same.”

Connell said school districts have begun to meet with county public health departments to see what steps should be taken, and those public health officials are recommending schools to follow the latest Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidance.

“The CDC guidance recommends masking for all folks in schools inside. They recommend minimum of three feet of spacing between students in classrooms, and 6 feet between students and staff,” said Jefferson-Lewis BOCES Superintendent Stephen Todd.

Todd said schools can put two students in a seat on the bus, as long as masks are worn.

But again, these are only recommendations, and the school districts will have the final say.

St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES Superintendent Tom Burns says the ultimate goal is to get all students in the classroom, full-time, which is also the CDC’s number one priority.

“To me, that’s a great relief. Kids need to be in school. We are all social animals, and everybody who is in education is a “people person” and wants to be with kids,” said Burns.

School districts were also informed that the State Education Department is left with having to release its own guidance in the next few days. Todd said that guidance will most likely reinforce those CDC recommendations.

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