New York schools cleared to open

Cuomo leaves details to districts, families

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REGION — School’s in session after all in New York State, but what it looks like will vary depending on the individual district. 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a localized reopening plan on August 7 based on low positivity rates (the number of positive COVID-19 cases with the total number tested). As of now, all districts qualify.

“If anybody can open schools, we can open schools,” the governor said in a statement. “We do masks, we do social distancing, we’ve kept that infection rate down, and we can bring the same level of intelligence to the school reopening that we brought to the economic reopening.”

Districts had to prepare their plans for a July 31 deadline, not knowing if Cuomo would green-light reopening. They had to work out a way to keep not just the students safe but teachers and staff as well. The state Department of Health is reviewing the plans and will notify districts of their status on Monday.

One hundred and twenty-seven districts have yet to submit their plans and 50 others were deemed insufficient, according to Cuomo. Districts will be required to meet with parents several times before Friday, August 21.

“We have been successful because we’ve been smart and we have to continue to be smart,” Cuomo said. “Parents and teachers must feel safe and secure in each school district’s plan to return to school, and those plans must adhere to the Department of Health’s guidance.”

“Many educators and parents have anxiety about local school district reopening plans that have been submitted to the state,” said Andy Pallotta, president of the New York State United Teachers union, in a statement. “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.” 

Pallotta acknowledged that parents and staff are confident about some aspects of their district’s plan, but added, “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. Being safe means parents and teachers must be confident in the reopening plan.” 

Overall, districts have made arrangements for full-time online learning, for families who are uncomfortable with sending students to in-person classes. 

Local districts are ready, their plans in place since the July 31 deadline.

At the Eldred Central School District, half the students will be present in the classroom and half will attend via Zoom or Google. Siblings will be in the same group to make child care easier to manage. Students with IEPs will come to school daily and there will be temperature checks either on the bus or at the school door. If a parent is worried about their child’s health, they can attend online, and if parents need the child in school so they can work, daily attendance is possible. Masks are required unless 10 feet of social distancing can be maintained. 

Sullivan West’s first day of school will be Thursday, September 10, because of staff training on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to their reopening plan. Students will have a hybrid schedule, attending two days per week, and siblings will attend the same days. If parents prefer that their children learn from home, they need to notify the district by Friday, August 14. 

Bus routes are being developed to ensure social distancing and students will be dismissed an hour early to allow teachers to work with learners at home.

“We are glad that Gov. Cuomo has announced that all schools can welcome students back to return to in-person instruction in the fall,” said Sullivan West superintendent Stephen Walker. “We have been planning extensively for this possibility and will be moving forward with implementing the hybrid model of in-person/at-home learning that we have previously shared with our parent community.”

He continued, “Our staff are consummate professionals, and they will be ready to rise to the challenge of what the fall will bring.” 

Susan Wade contributed reporting to this story.

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