ALBANY — Schools can open this fall provided a region is in Phase IV and the 14-day rolling average infection rate is below 5 percent as of Aug. 1, said Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
If the infection rate spikes above 9 percent after Aug. 1, schools will not be allowed to open. It is not clear what happens if the infection rate spikes after students return to school buildings for their education at the beginning of September.
As of Sunday, July 12, the infection rate across the state was about 1.08 percent. In the eight-district Capital District the infection rate was 0.9 percent. In Albany County, though, there was a spike in cases over the weekend and the infection rate was at 2 percent on Monday, July 13, which is higher even than the hardest hit New York City, which had an infection rate of 1.1 percent.
Each of the state’s some 700-plus school districts will need to submit a specific safety plan by July 31. The state will then, based on the infection rate in the district’s given region, give the thumbs up or down by Aug. 7 on whether or not they can reopen the school buildings.
According to the state task force charged with outlining safety protocols for school districts all teachers and students are required to wear masks if they cannot maintain six feet of social distance. In classroom instruction will be a priority, especially for labs, arts and career and technical education, Cuomo said, but the plan encourages a hybrid school week with students spending some days attending classes from home via computer.
All students and teachers will have to be screened prior to coming into the buildings and provisions must be made to isolate anyone showing signs or symptoms while in a school buildings.
All students and staff will be directed to wash hands frequently and rigorous sanitization protocols will need to be part of the individual districts plan to reopen.
Transportation is an extension of the school building, Cuomo said, and children will be directed to social distance while waiting for and riding on school buses.
“Everyone wants to reopen schools. It’s not if we reopen or not, you re-open if it’s safe to reopen. How do we know it’s safe? We look at the data,” Cuomo said during a press briefing on Monday. “You don’t hold your finger up and feel the wind. You don’t have a dream. You don’t have an emotion. If you have the virus under control you open. If you don’t have the virus under control you don’t open.”
While the districts will need to present their own plan, any decision on accepting the plan or any variations within the same broad outline will likely be on a regional basis rather than by individual school districts.
The state Education Department and the Board of Regents also released a plan on Monday on the educational aspects of elementary and high school education that will work within the safety protocols laid out by the governor’s task force. Many of the same standards, like providing meals, transportation and meeting the same education benchmarks in place prior to the pandemic remain in place.
It presents three different scenarios — in house schooling, schooling remotely and a hybrid model. Specific requirements, and those deemed flexible like a required in-house learning and the required delivery of physical education, will be released by the state Board of Education on July 17.
• This framework and the guidance which will follow allows schools to plan for the upcoming school year under three different scenarios that aim to keep our children, educators and school personnel safe and encourages equitable access to high-quality services for all students,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa.
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.