Cuomo permits schools to reopen throughout New York

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo is among those named as defendants in a lawsuit from the New York State United Teachers.(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Friday that school districts throughout the state of New York will be permitted to open their doors for in-person education beginning in late August or early September.

Cuomo said he made the decision based on the state’s low rate of infection but he could take further action if the rate spikes up.

“Every region is well below our COVID infection limit, therefore all school districts are authorized to open,” Cuomo tweeted. “If the infection rate spikes, the guidance will change accordingly.”

Cuomo said each school district in the state will have flexibility on what specific plan they choose to roll out after holding three virtual sessions with parents on how testing, contact tracing, and remote learning will be implemented.

While teachers are welcome to join those sessions, Cuomo said, a separate virtual meeting must be held strictly for teachers to address their questions and concerns.

“I have been deluged with calls from parents and teachers,” Cuomo said. “There is a significant level of anxiety and concern among them.”

Cuomo said each district must have plans for both in-classroom and remote learning as well as testing, and contact tracing on their respective websites by Aug. 14.

“Remote learning can be quite unequal depending on the circumstances,” Cuomo said.

Each school district, Cuomo said, is granted flexibility on how they choose to operate testing and contact tracing but stressed the need for constant monitoring on the health and well-being of students, teachers, and staff.

“If a student tests positive in a class, what is the contact tracing for that?” he asked. “Do you test the class? How can you contain it if someone gets it? These are the questions each district must provide answers for.”

Cuomo said school districts can also utilize local government or health departments to aid in testing.

When asked if there was a state-wide oversight that could be provided for each district, Cuomo spoke on the circumstantial differences that impede the state’s ability to implement an overarching mandate or law.

“There is no one size fits all here,” Cuomo said. “All of the 750 school districts throughout the state are very different.”

The one mandate that Cuomo said will be remain implemented is the daily rate of infections. If that rate exceeds five percent over a 14-day average, then state officials will reconvene on further instructions.

As of Friday, the infection rate throughout New York was at one percent.

Cuomo touted the state’s low infection rate and the general compliance with social distancing, wearing face masks, and other health mandates.

“We have the best infection situation in the county, if any state can do it, we can do it,” Cuomo said. “We are bringing the same intelligence here as we did with the economic reopening. Allowing flexibility while keeping the public informed and safe.”

School districts across New York were advised to send models for in-person and remote instruction, as well as a third plan for a hybrid of the two, to the state by July 31.

All districts on the North Shore are requiring students, staff, and faculty to wear face masks and have a temperature below 100 degrees Fahrenheit before they can attend classes. The districts are also taking precautions should a need for contact tracing arise due to an outbreak of the virus at one of their schools.

In Nassau County, a total of 43,534 people had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Friday morning, and 2,194 people had died from it, according to county figures.

“Just because I say the infection rate is low, that’s not going to cause a parent to send the child back to school,” Cuomo said last week. “Just because the school district says we have a safe plan, I’m telling you it’s not going to work. They have to feel comfortable which means they have to be part of the process. We have to have a dialogue.”

President Donald Trump has made his stance on reopening the schools clear and concise.

“OPEN THE SCHOOLS!!!” Trump tweeted on Monday.

A school in Jerusalem was an international cautionary tale about the dangers of reopening too rapidly, becoming what The New York Times described as “a petri dish for Covid-19.”

Despite the Gymnasia school in Israel not being able to adhere to social distancing guidelines, having upwards of 38 students in a 500-square-foot classroom, the consensus of the public was “euphoric” in regards to how the first wave of the virus was dealt with locally, The Times reported.

The day after Israeli Education Minister Yoav Gallant said the school system’s “immediate mission” was to allow parents to return to work with peace of mind, the newspaper reported 154 students and 26 staff members were found to be infected.

According to The Times, roughly 60 percent of infected students were asymptomatic. 

As a result, the country’s Education Ministry closed more than 240 schools and quarantined more than 22,500 teachers and students, with 977 testing positive for the virus, The Times reported.

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