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'A complete surprise': State health department won't offer schools reopening guidance

Rush Henrietta Superintendent, Bo Wright, said mask requirements are definitely a possibility as districts prepare for reopening in the fall
Racquel Stephen
Rush Henrietta Superintendent, Bo Wright, said mask requirements are definitely a possibility as districts prepare for reopening in the fall

For months, Monroe County school superintendents have been awaiting firm COVID-19 reopening guidelines from the New York State Department of Health, but state officials said Thursday that they won't be issuing that guidance.

"With the end of the state disaster emergency on June 25, 2021, school districts are reestablished as the controlling entity for schools,” state health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement.

Zucker said districts should develop plans to open in person in the fall as safely as possible, and that he recommends following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health departments.

Rush-Henrietta Central School District Superintendent Bo Wright, who is also the president of the Monroe County Council of School Superintendents, was taken aback by the decision.

"The announcement that there will be no direction at all from the state comes as a complete surprise," Wright said in a statement. 

With only four weeks left before the first day of school, Wright said the districts will continue the conversation about how best to approach reopening. 

“This will take some time, as each district has a unique set of circumstances regarding their student population, available space and resources, busing, and more,” Wright said.

Greece Central School District Superintendent Kathy Graupman said her district will release its own reopening guidance to the community later this month. 

“The state's reversal today will not derail our plans for a safe reopening,” Graupman said.

Wright said each district is still committed to offering in-person instruction five days a week in September.

State Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa, in a letter to Zucker, expressed her concern over the health department's decision.

“There is an urgent need for timely advice and supervision flowing from the State Department of Health to local and school officials as they navigate these uncertain times,” Rosa stated.

She said Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office has been promising "for months" that the health department would carry out its responsibilities to the public, and this week's events surrounding the sexual harassment investigation into Cuomo should not prevent that from happening.

Racquel Stephen is a health and environment reporter. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Rochester and a master's degree in broadcasting and digital journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.