Cuomo: All schools can re-open

Andrew Cuomo
Photo credit AP Photo

Albany, NY (WBEN) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Friday that all schools across the state will be allowed to reopen.

Cuomo said the re-opening is possible because of the low infection rate across the state. Previously, Cuomo said he would give schools the green light to reopen for in-person classes if the infection level is 5% or lower. New York State’s level has been at around 1% for weeks. Western New York's has been around 1% for months.

"If any state can do it, this state can do it," Cuomo said on Friday.

The State Department of Health will have the authority to reject a school or district's reopening plan, which had to be submitted to the State last week. Cuomo said that hundreds of schools have either not submitted a reopening plan, or submitted an incomplete plan.

At least three seperate discussion sessions with parents must be scheduled by every school district. Buffalo Schools will have to hold five of these sessions.

Now that the state has determined it's safe enough for kids to return to school in the fall, Cuomo said each district will now be tasked with deciding exactly how to implement that.

“We have been clear all along: Health and safety is the most important consideration in reopening school buildings. Viral infection rates tell only one part of the story. Many educators and parents have anxiety about local school district reopening plans that have been submitted to the state — if they even have been yet, with 127 districts that didn’t bother to submit them by last week and 50 considered incomplete by the state. 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. Right now, there may be some areas where parents and educators are confident in their district’s plan, but in many others, we know they aren’t. 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, and it is welcome news that districts must meet with parents and teachers this month. We’re thankful the governor agrees that forcing people back into the classroom when they feel their health is threatened is not what should happen. So if districts need to phase in the reopening of buildings, so be it. We must err on the side of caution. Period.”

Interim education commmissioner Shannon Tahoe and Chairman of the Board of Regents Betty Rosa say in a statement, “The COVID-19 pandemic created an unprecedented crisis, impacting New York’s students physically, emotionally and psychologically. Indeed, this has been one of, if not the most, challenging periods for education in our history. New York’s educators have heroically risen to the occasion, dedicating themselves to ensuring that students continued to learn as they also provided the level of care and compassion that our students need on a social-emotional level. Districts and schools are now putting their reopening procedures into action, planning for teaching and learning whether that will be in-person, remote or a combination of both. The health crisis of COVID-19 has shined an even brighter spotlight on the crisis of the “digital divide” -- the lack of equitable access that disproportionately affects low income, minority, and rural populations both nationally and within New York. We cannot even begin to bridge this divide and address the critical safety, educational and emotional concerns that COVID-19 has exacerbated without the Governor, Legislature and State Education Department coming together to find real solutions and funding to provide equity for all our students. We must find a common way forward if we hope to move on safely and appropriately from this catastrophe. That must also include a statewide plan to assist all our districts and schools with purchasing Personal Protective Equipment and technology. The safety of our children and educators must be of utmost priority if we are to continue the monumental improvement that New York State has made in flattening the curve and ensure that we protect that progress. NYSED has provided guidance on recovering, rebuilding, and renewing the spirit of New York State Schools and will continue to provide technical assistance on that guidance to our districts and schools. Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our students and educators and we will continue to work together to ensure that our schools have the information and tools to move forward from this crisis, with the best interests of our students always the priority. As we have said all along, the Department of Health is responsible for determining the appropriate health and safety measures districts and schools must take. Districts must continue to engage with their local school communities, including parents and teachers, as well as their local departments of health as needed, regarding their reopening plans.”