ALBANY — With schools finalizing the logistics of opening within the next few weeks, unions are calling on the state to modify its guidelines and require masks be worn at all times while indoors.
Earlier this month, the state allowed districts to reopen school buildings and mandated masks if an appropriate six-foot of social distancing cannot be achieved. Some districts reopening plans allowed students to remove masks once they are seated at their desks and most allowed “mask breaks” to give students a chance to get some unfiltered air.
“The governor has said — and we agree — that parents and educators must be confident in their school district’s reopening plan in order for this to work,” said New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta. “As we hear of disparate mask procedures and other issues in reopening plans across the state, it’s clear that the state must step in. Making masks mandatory at all times is one step toward helping address the reservations that still exist regarding reopening school buildings.”
The letter from NYSUT to state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker was also signed by the American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.
“Unfortunately, as the beginning of the school year nears and districts continue working out their reopening plans with parents and teachers, we are seeing disparate mask policies that are not leaving parents or educators confident in the safety of their district’s plans,” the letter states. “In reviewing individual reopening plans with educators in the field, it’s clear that numerous plans do not go far enough in their mask mandates to ensure the safety of students and educators.”
NYSUT is also asking the state to mandate districts close buildings for two weeks upon a positive case of COVID. Most districts have opted for a hybrid model of educating students with a mix of online and in person learning. While students are in the school buildings, most plans include keeping groups of students together throughout the day and administrators have said it would not be necessary to close the entire school but instead quarantine a particular group of students should one test positive.
Earlier this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the OK for “low risk” scholastic athletics to begin on Sept. 21. They include sports like tennis, soccer, field hockey and track and schools can only compete within their respective regions and those contiguous.
But, on Wednesday, the state Council of School Superintendents wrote a letter to Cuomo asking that he “reconsider the decision” and not allow athletics until Jan. 1.
“We have struggled to reconcile why students in physical education classes must be 12 feet apart pre reopening guidance, yet contact athletics and other activities that regularly bring athletes into close proximity are deemed safe at this time,” according to the letter signed by Executive Director Charles Dedrick.
The letter says the logistics of holding athletic contests — transportation, locker room use, spectator control and variable academic schedules — is too much to consider while there is so much uncertainty regarding the opening of schools in general.
“Our leaders want a successful reopening and are expressing a strong desire to defer all other activities that could endanger the health and safety of students and delay their start in the classroom,” according to the letter.
Cuomo, in response on Thursday, said schools can have athletics but they are not required to the decision is up to the local districts.