BROOKLYN – A month before the new school year begins, Governor Andrew Cuomo officially announced that schools can physically reopen. But there are more questions than answers.
Today, August 7, is the last day for New York City families to decide whether or not to opt their children for fully remote learning in the fall or have their children do a what’s referred to as a blended model, attending in person one to three days a week while learning remotely the rest of the time.
New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta released this statement following Cuomo’s announcement.
“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,” Pallotta said. “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,” Pallotta said. “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.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio had announced some instructions on the reopening last week saying if schools re-open, and the city reaches a 3% positivity rate, schools will close once again. If a student or staffer tests positive for the coronavirus, the city plans to close classrooms or entire school buildings for an investigation, depending on the situation. He seems to be on par with the governor, who announced today that every school district in NYS has to submit their reopening plans to the Department of Health and the State Education Department. But there are still more questions than answers.
“There’s a significant level of anxiety and concern,” Cuomo said. “We’ve learned from the experiences we had during COVID that remote learning can be quiet unequal given demographics and circumstances. I’m going to ask the school districts to post their remote learning plan.”
“There’s been a lot of questions about testing,” he continued. “Most of the plans will say a student comes in, gets a temperature check, and if the student has a temperature, they have to be tested. What does that mean? How is the student tested? Where is the student tested? If there are 20 students who have a temperature on Day One, how do you get those students tested? Where do you get them tested? What happens in the interim. How do teachers get tested?”
And then there’s contact tracing. “If a student tests positive in a class, what is the contact tracing for that positive?” Cuomo asked. “Do you test the entire class? If a student goes to a number of classes, how do you do it? How will the school do contact tracing? Will the school ask the local government to do it? The local health department to do it?”
What NYC DOE officials did promise was that custodians will sanitize school buildings on a nightly basis. Roughly 8,000 thermometers should be on hand for temperature checks come September, and the department will provide “wellness barriers” for the school’s general offices and their main safety desks, officials said, Chalkbeat reported. School buses will be allowed to operate at 25% capacity.
“Everywhere in the state, every region is below the threshold that we established,” Cuomo said. “Which is just great news… We are probably in the best situation in the country right now, as incredible as that is. So if anybody can open schools, we can open schools.”