The Great Neck school district adopted a reopening plan that calls for indoor mask mandates and social distancing protocols during last week’s Board of Education meeting.
Along with constant cleaning of surfaces and fresh air flow through open windows and ventilation equipment, Superintendent Teresa Prendergast said the district will be taking every step necessary to have students return to in-person instruction as safely as possible. While contingency plans for remote education will remain in place if an uptick in the virus forces schools to shut down, Prendergast said the district’s priority is for a year of in-person learning.
“The district, along with the New York state Education Department, is advocating that we maximize the return of students to in-person instruction,” Prendergast said. “We do recognize that there is a social and emotional component for the well-being and growth of our students and we believe that will take place with the return to in-person instruction.”
The guidelines outlined by the district coincided with the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state’s Department of Education, and the order for masks throughout schools handed down by Gov. Kathy Hochul last week.
Hochul, who replaced Andrew Cuomo after he resigned in disgrace, said at a news conference: “My number one priority is getting children back to school and protecting the environment so they can learn safely. I am immediately directing the Department of Health to institute universal masking for anyone entering our schools.”
Hochul said the state will use $335 million in federal funds to launch a program that will provide coronavirus testing in all school districts. She also advocated for teachers and staff members to be vaccinated, but aims to arrange weekly testing for those not vaccinated.
According to CDC guidelines, a close contact is defined as someone who was within six feet of an infected individual for at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period, two days after the illness began. Any individual in close contact with someone infected is required to stay home for 10 days after exposure.
Prendergast also touched upon the controversy over vaccination mandates. She told the public that the district has no legal authority to mandate that teachers, staff or students receive vaccinations that are not already required by the state.
The district, she said, would only have the authority to mandate the vaccine for employees and students if the law is amended. Prendergast said the district will remain in contact with local, state, and federal departments of health and education for further guidance if more concerns about the virus arise.
Teachers and staff members in the New York public schools are required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Friday. Roughly 148,000 school employees will be required by the city to have at least a first dose by Sept. 27.