ALBANY — School district across the state must present a plan to reopen this fall by July 31. On July 13, the state will issue more “guidance” on what is expected from each district to open in a safe manner and at the beginning of next month will make a decision on what happens in September.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has the final authority on the some 700 school districts across the state, said Wednesday, the decision could be different in different regions based on the infection rate during the first week in August.
“You have variations in the infection rate across the state. If I have a lower infection rate in upstate New York, is it safer to have more school days there than in a region with a higher infection rate,” he said during a press briefing on Wednesday. “We want to make that decision with the best available data. The facts change day-to-day, week-to-week. We understand there is a drop dead date and we want to wait until that date to make a decision.”
He said school officials have indicated the end of the first week in August is that date “so they can turn on the switches and get everything ready by September so we will look at the data in that first week and make a decision.”
There are scores of charter, parochial and other private schools that must also be considered but Cuomo said their reopening plans would likely be tied to the school districts where they are located since so many issues are interconnected, like the area’s infection rate on the one side of the equation and transportation on the other.
Some theoretical ideas that are floated include rotating days with students attending classes at the school on some days and doing online learning on other days, staggering classes through a longer school day or starting the school year with all online learning and re-examining the issue at a later date.
The obstacles, though, are immense and include dealing with 700 different bargaining units, socially distancing hundreds of students throughout a school day in limited space, transportation and school supplied meals.
Andy Pallotta, president of the New York State United Teachers, said parents and school staff must have a seat at the table when discussing reopening school. And, funding provided to ensure the following:
- Personal protective equipment for every student and staff member.
- Appropriate cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
- Require six feet of social distancing inside school buildings.
- Accommodations for students and staff who are at higher risk for contracting this illness.
- Ensure adequate mental health services.
- Maintain equitable access to a well-rounded education for every student.
“Health and safety of students, families, educators and other school staff, and equitable access to a high-quality education must be the top priorities in reopening schools,” he said in a statement. “The federal government’s demands that schools reopen without concern for health, safety and equity are simply out of touch.”
Earlier this week, President Donald Trump said he would use the power of the federal government to open schools this fall across the nation. Cuomo, however, said all decisions regarding schools are, by law, left to the states.
“That is the law and that is how we will proceed,” Cuomo said. “The President does not have the authority to open schools. We will open the schools if it is safe to open schools.”
Schools have a more profound effect on our society than just the students’ well-being. Many working parents rely on the school day as a form of day care while they work.
Trump did threaten to withhold funding from the states who do not open schools, but out of the some $70 billion New York spends on education per year, about $3.5 billion comes from the federal government.