Leading in Virus Control, New York Will Lead in School Reopenings, Too, Vows Cuomo

A coalition of teachers, students and families protest Monday in New York during a rally called National Day of Resistance Against Unsafe School Reopening Opening. Organizers said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio, New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, and the Department of Education must stop the in-person reopening of schools until it is safe for all. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

MANHATTAN (CN) — All schools in New York have the green light to open in the fall, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Friday.  

“By our infection rates, all school districts can open everywhere in the state,” said Cuomo in a Friday teleconference. “Which is just great news.” 

Though New York had emerged as the national and global hotspot for the novel coronavirus at the outset of the pandemic, the infection rate of the state registered Friday at 1%, among the lowest rates in the country. 

“If anyone can open schools, we can open schools,” he added. “That’s true for every region in the state, period.” 

Closed since March 18, New York’s more than 700 districts had until July 31 to send Cuomo their plan for reopening. Noting that 127 districts failed to meet that deadline, and 50 districts had incomplete plans, Cuomo said those districts will be reviewed by the state’s Department of Education over the weekend.

The option for remote learning is still on the table for families, but Cuomo acknowledged that remote learning can be “quite unequal” given the state’s demographics.

As for testing, Cuomo said schools need to be more clear on how they are going to go about it. 

“If there are 20 students who have a temperature on day one,” Cuomo postulated, “how do you get those students tested? Where do you get them tested? And what happens in the interim?”

All students will be required to wear a mask, and schools must be prepared to provide one if a student does not have one.

The New York State United Teachers Union demanded clear guidelines for opening schools on Wednesday. 

“This is no time to take risks,” Andy Pallotta, the union president, said in a statement. “If the state allows school buildings to reopen, districts must be prepared to close them in the event of a positive case.”

While teachers are not allowed to strike in New York, it is not clear whether some may choose not to go back to school.

Communication is key, Cuomo said, asking all districts to post their plans on the school’s website for parents to see, and to hold at least three question-and-answer sessions with families before August 21.

He further added schools need to hold one session for teachers. 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last Friday that the city plans to still rely on remote learning as a blended model when it reopens schools to its 1.1 million students for on-site learning — expected to run two to three days a week depending on the school’s size.

Emphasizing that safety is the top priority for reopening the largest school district in the U.S., the mayor said schools will not open if the city breaks its two-month trend of keeping Covid-19 infection rates below 3%.

Cuomo’s guidelines follow a similar trend, saying the infection rate to open schools must stay below 5%.

The United Federation of Teachers union joined NYSUT Wednesday in asking for clearer guidelines while saying de Blasio’s plan is not enough.

“There is no room for error,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “New York City’s reopening ‘plan’ lacks specifics on what happens if there’s a positive case. The state must step in for the sake of New York City students, educators and families, and those across the state.”

Many cities such as Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago announced they will start the school year remotely.

Schools that have already opened their doors are quickly seeing cases pop up.

A school in Mississippi opened last week, and by Friday one student had tested positive, resulting in 116 students being sent home to quarantine, while a student in an Indiana school tested positive for the virus after the first day of class.

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