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Governor, Board of Regents issue school reopening guidance

Jul 13, 2020

Credit Governor Cuomo's office

The New York State Board of Regents on Monday issued preliminary guidelines for schools to reopen as Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the final decision on reopening will be data-driven and based on the rate of infection in September and at any time during the upcoming school year.

The governor said schools will be permitted to fully or partially reopen in a region of the state if the region is in phase four of reopening and the rate of COVID-19 infection is no higher than 5% for a 14-day period. Cuomo contrasted his rules to those of President Donald Trump, who is urging schools to reopen regardless of the virus numbers.

“If you have the virus under control, reopen. If you don’t have the virus under control, then you can’t reopen,” Cuomo said. “We’re not going to use our children as a litmus test. And we are not going to put our children in a place where their health is endangered. It’s that simple.”

The governor will make his final decision during the first week of August, but he said if the virus rate goes up before the planned September openings, the reopen authorization will be rescinded. And he said schools will close at any time if the regional infection rate is greater than 9% over a seven-day average.

The governor’s guidelines come on the same day that the Board of Regents, which sets education policy for New York, issued its own guidance for schools to reopen.

The Regents’ criteria includes a mandatory mask requirement for all students, teachers and other staff, daily health checks of students and teachers, cleaning and disinfecting protocols, and procedures for safely helping children and adults who may fall ill during the school day. The guidelines also include improving ventilation and air filtration systems and protocols for safely busing children back and forth from school and ensuring that students receive adequate meals without necessarily congregating in a school cafeteria.

The report will be sent to the state’s over 700 school districts to help them submit their own individual plans for full or partial reopening in September.

Some Regents expressed concerns over keeping track of some students who are partially or fully learning remotely so that they do not fall through the cracks. Regent Judith Chin, who is from Queens, said there have been reports of chronic absenteeism among some students in New York City’s 2020 remote summer school program.

“These are the ones that I’m most concerned about, because they are lost in the system,” Chin said. “And the repercussions, the implications are tremendous for these students.”

Regent Frances Wills, who lives in the Hudson Valley, said the guidance does not address one very important component: adequate child care for students who may be attending school just two or three days each week. She said she knows the Regents don’t have control over that, but it will greatly affect working parents and teachers with children.

“I know this is almost impossible for us to manage,” said Wills, who added that the Regents should try to connect child care providers with parents to avoid an “intractable” situation.

School districts can begin submitting their reopening plans to the state’s education department on Wednesday. They have until July 31 to finish and will find out if the plans meet approval by Aug. 7.

The recommendations from the governor and the education department come as a new poll finds New Yorkers are cautiously optimistic about school reopenings this fall.

Siena College Research Institute Director Don Levy said 46% believe it is somewhat likely that schools will be open. But just 18% are confident that it is very likely that schools will open their doors in September.

“There’s a hopefulness that we are going to have schools open,” Levy said. “But really, we only have one out of five who think it is very likely to happen.”

Nearly two-thirds of those asked believe New York has not yet seen the end of the virus, and the worst is yet to come.