ALBANY — School buildings can re-open this fall, said Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday.
But, it’s not as simple as unlocking the doors.
The individual districts will have to continue to discuss the plans with teachers and parents, “which is more complex,” the governor said.
“There is a significant level of anxiety and I’ve said a number of times these districts have to talk to the teachers and the parents because if teachers don’t come back you can’t open schools. If parents don’t send their children, you can’t open schools,” Cuomo said.
Districts are required to hold three meetings with parents regarding opening buildings and one with teachers, Cuomo said.
Three areas of concern will need to be individually posted: remote learning plans, how the districts will screen for COVID-19 and how districts will conduct contact tracing should there be a positive case.
Most districts in the eight county Capital District region are requiring parents to daily screen students at home — including temperature checks and a basic check for symptoms — before they attend schools in person.
Districts have worked on their individual plans for about a month and handed them to the state Department of Health for review. There were 50 districts out of 750 in the state with insufficient plans and they will need to be completed, Cuomo said.
Last month, Cuomo said schools could re-open if the infection rate in any given region was under 5 percent. The highest infection rate of any region as of Friday was the Mohawk Valley with an infection rate of 1.5 percent. The Capital District had an infection rate of .8 percent.
Most plans locally include a hybrid of remote and in person learning. For example, in many districts, elementary school students would attend school five days a week while older students would attend class in person on some days and study remotely on others.
Earlier this week, the New York State United Teachers union said if there is one positive case in one school the entire school must close for two weeks. Local plans include keeping groups of students who are attending class in-person together for the entire school day and if one students in one class does test positive just that group would have to shift to remote learning rather than shuttering the entire school.
“The teachers have to agree to go back and I am telling you there is going to be significant discussion because teachers are raising many concerns,” Cuomo said during a conference call on Friday.
The individual districts’ plans are exhaustive, and while the specifics do vary they all address transportation, social distancing, masks, meals, special education, protocols for cleaning, contact tracing, health screenings for students and staff and what happens if there is a positive case.
“The state says here is the viral infection rate and it now turns to the school districts and their plans,” Cuomo said. “They can do in person school but it is up to them whether they do in person, hybrid, outdoor education, a blend, half day, quarter day. That is up to their discretion.”