Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to decide this week whether schools throughout the state will be permitted to reopen in the fall, but he said on Monday he trusts parents more than any other affected stakeholder.
“Just because the school district says, ‘You shouldn’t worry about your child’s public health,’ that’s not going to be enough,” Cuomo said. “Not in this environment. Not when you’re dealing with situations that everybody knows that nobody has the facts. Parents are going to want to understand the information for themselves.”
Cuomo advised all of New York’s more than 700 school districts to safely meet with parents and create an environment where questions and concerns can be asked and answered.
“Set up a discussion room now, start explaining to the parents now, have those conversations now, you can’t call people into a conference room but you can invite them on to a video chat or onto a chat room, but they have questions and they need answers and time is short,” Cuomo said. “That should start now because the parents are going to make the decision.”
In Great Neck, a coalition of concerned parents has already given some proof to Cuomo’s claim by creating an online petition imploring the public school district to offer their children an in-person education five days a week.
“As parent advocates, we demand that the district commit to delivering a comprehensive program that includes standards to ensure that our children receive more than a half-hearted apology from the Board of Education and an empty pledge from the Superintendent for failing to provide them with an exceptional educational program in the spring,” the petition reads.
The petition also described the district’s spring education offerings as “vastly truncated school days, inconsistent policies for how teachers delivered educational services, and a lackluster approach to innovation.”
The petition calls for the Board of Education, superintendent and administration to set educational standards for full, in-person instruction five days a week, develop and announce a schedule that will be adhered to by every educator, and share the plans of how a “quality education” will be provided to the district’s students and develop a system for parents to voice concerns in real time.
Recently re-elected Great Neck Board of Education member Rebecca Sassouni sent an email to district stakeholders, recognizing the concerns that were expressed.
“There is genuine worry about a contagious virus,” Sassouni said. “Also, there is media contagion that amplifies our cynicism and fears while it lays bare our human grasping for reassuring information during an anxious time. Thus, for some, the information in the District plan is sufficient; for others it still feels lacking.”
“We know that nothing this year can be the same as it was before, and our hearts break for our children and our staff as well,” School Superintendent Teresa Prendergast said. “We realize that September will require an understanding on everyone’s part that we are all doing the best we can under these difficult circumstances.”
The decision on reopening schools, Cuomo said, will come this week after fully analyzing the infection rates throughout the state. As of Monday, when Cuomo made the announcement, 416,843 people had tested positive for the virus since the beginning of the pandemic. Hospitalizations fell to 536, and intubations fell to 62, both the lowest levels since mid-March.
As of Wednesday, of the 72,668 tests reported on Tuesday, 636 or 0.87 percent, were positive. Hospitalizations increased to 564, and four deaths occurred throughout the state.
In Nassau County, a total of 43,322 people had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Wednesday, 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. “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, despite suggesting that the general election might need to be pushed back due to the difficulties surrounding the counting of mail-in ballots, 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.