Updated at 1:30 p.m.: All schools in New York State are authorized to reopen in the fall, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday, citing the current low infection rate around the state.
But, he said, there is no guarantee that the plans submitted by individual districts will pass muster with the state Department of Health and be able to reopen. Cuomo said Friday that plans from about 50 districts around the state didn’t measure up to DOH standards, and other districts had not submitted plans in time. He said districts would be notified starting Monday about whether their plans were accepted. And he said teachers and parents have deluged his office with questions about testing, and contact tracing if someone develops Covid-19.
Districts have to ensure that parents, teachers and other members of the community have more information about the reopening plans, he said.
“All school districts in the state can open, everywhere in the state, which is just great news,” he said on a phone briefing with journalists. “You look at our infection rate, we are probably in the best situation in the country.” He emphasized the ability for every region on the state to reopen schools.”
Schools have been closed to in-person classes since mid-March, when the Covid-19 epidemic began to spread across the state.
Teachers’ unions and parents have expressed concerns about the likelihood of a surge in infection rates once schools reopen. But others have worried about the children’s education, given the disparity in technology needed to learn from home.
New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta released the following statement today regarding the governor’s decision on reopening schools:
“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 reopening of buildings, with most students expected to attend school in a mix of remote and in-person classes, could allow for many parents to go back to work instead of staying home to care for their children. School officials, PTA members, unions and others have been working to figure out the many problems related to reopening, from transportation, health and safety and technology problems.