Cuomo: 5% infection rate will determine reopening

(ALBANY, New York) — CARIBBEAN TIMES NEWS is reporting that New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo recently provided school leaders with a formula to determine whether in-person instruction can safely resume in the fall. Cuomo in a press appearance last week said schools will be cleared to reopen in August if the region where they are located is in phase four of reopening and the daily infection rate remains 5 percent or lower over a 14-day average. If the region sees a significant spike in cases between August and September, then schools may be required to operate remotely.

“We will make the first decision Aug. 1 – 7, (because) different regions are in different phases,” Cuomo said. “If the infection rate goes over 9 percent then we hit an emergency stop button.” Schools in New York have been closed since mid-March. The decision to close was made by Cuomo as coronavirus cases swelled in the state. Cuomo’s Reimagine Education task force and the state Health Department released interim health and safety parameters for districts last Monday.

The document requires face coverings on school grounds, except during meals and instruction, and outlines daily screening procedures for anyone who enters the building. Schools may request that students bring their own face covering, but may not require it and must provide free masks to students who don’t have any. It strongly recommends grouping students into self-contained cohorts of students and to modify classroom spaces to ensure socially distanced learning. The Board of Regents and the state education department have been tasked with coming up with educational standards and other guidelines for ensuring equitable delivery of instruction.

The Board of Regents at its recent also meeting provided a “framework” for promised guidance on reopening schools, but the full document won’t be released until next week. It is based on information collected through four regional reopening task force meetings and a student forum. State education officials emphasized that the pending guidance is not “one-size-fits-all” given the diversity of the school districts, charters, and private schools in New York and that it is “equity and student-centered.”

“Creating a framework to reopen New York’s schools has been an undertaking of paramount effort, made even more difficult by the devastating impact the pandemic has had here in New York State,” Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa said. “This framework and the guidance which will follow allows schools to plan for the upcoming school year under three different scenarios that aim to keep our children, educators and school personnel safe and encourages equitable access to high-quality services for all students.”

The official noted that all students and teachers will have to wear face masks and maintain social distancing if school resumes in the fall; exceptions will be made, such as for very young children and special education teachers who have students who need to see their mouths. Regardless of whether schools provide in-classroom instruction, remote instruction, or a hybrid, teachers must take daily attendance for every student. Schools should prioritize younger students and students with disabilities for in-person instruction, state education officials said.

New York’s more than 700 public school districts, as well as charter schools and private schools, have been asked to submit individual reopening plans to the state by July 31, but cannot do so without further guidance and regulatory changes from the state, according to the New York State School Board’s Association.

“We know there’s less than two months until the reopening of schools,” NYSSBA spokesman Al Marlin said. “We also know school districts and parents are looking for guidance which will help reopen schools in a safe and timely manner. The health and education for our school districts is the number one priority for our association. We need to wait until the official guidelines are presented to provide a full picture of a back to school plan. ”

Talks among educational leaders in the Capital Region about what the classroom might look like in the fall have been underway for weeks, but school districts have been unable to move forward without specific safety guidelines and regulatory flexibility to put a plan into practice, educational leaders say.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Shutterstock (10678513bd)
Governor Andrew Cuomo

Districts are facing numerous obstacles in planning for the coming school year. Without the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine, there will inevitably be teachers with underlying health conditions who cannot teach in the classroom and parents who are uncomfortable sending their children back to school. It’s unclear whether sports and recreational activities can safely resume.

Members of the Board of Regents raised concerns from school leaders that districts do not have access to adequate PPE, personal protective equipment (gloves, masks, cleaning supplies), to reopen schools. In the Capital Region, many schools had donated their extra masks and gloves to local hospitals facing shortages at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Interim Education Commissioner Shannon Tahoe says the department has brought the issue of funding for PPE to the attention of the governor’s office. In the Capital Region, school officials have discussed providing a hybrid of online and in-person schooling to reduce density in the classroom and on the school bus. Proposals include staggering class times or having students attend school every other day, or having some students study at home while others learn in the classroom.

Cuomo said that two “threats” that could derail schools reopening plans: lack of compliance and enforcement on a local level or the return of COVID-19 from outside the state. “You reopen if it is safe to reopen. How do you know if its safe? You look at the data,” Cuomo said. “We’re not going to use our children as guinea pigs.”

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