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New York State Education Department Releases Much-Anticipated Fall School Guidance

Paul Tuthill

The New York State Education Department has released a health and safety guide for school districts as they prepare to reopen classrooms next month.

NYSED unveiled an online resource Thursday that includes recommendations and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on mask wearing, vaccination and social distancing, but does not mandate actions. NYSED says the guide is based on the best health and safety information currently available and will be updated as public health conditions change.

Stevie Vargas is the Statewide Campaign Coordinator with the Alliance for Quality Education.

"I spent last night combing through the New York State Education Department new guidelines, saw some amazing things in there, that really prioritizes the health of our students. So we're happy to see that they were proactive, in releasing these guidelines. Our students have been through a tremendous amount of grief. We all experienced a pandemic and the trial of the pandemic together. Our students and parents are eager to get back to school, and making sure that we are prioritizing the health and safety of our kids is a good call, especially if it allows them to return back to an person in school option."

The guide addresses questions related to: COVID-19 vaccinations, monitoring community transmission, masks, physical distancing, sports and extracurricular activities, COVID screening, health questionnaire screenings, contact tracing, COVID-related facilities projects, remote instruction, and funding sources available to schools and districts.

Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson says the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District appreciates the State Education Department taking action.

"...producing a document that quite honestly was a burden to placed on them through the chain of command coming from upper level New York state government. The plan is comprehensive, it stops short of requiring any one particular decision, whether it be mask wearing, whether it be physical distancing, testing in schools, it is comprehensive. It is a starting point for for brought up in Perth and I suspect public schools across the state, as we all work hard to prepare our students schools to open up safely in September."

Albany Schools Superintendent Kaweeda Adams issued a statement Friday: "We are reviewing vaccination guidance with our legal team as our back-to-school plans develop, and monitoring COVID-19 transmission rates in Albany County on a daily basis." A district spokesman says back-to-school plans Adams previously released are aligned with the new guidance.

Again, AQE’s Vargas:

"We have had a year almost a year and a half, to plan for this and make sure that we have a seamless transition. Now's the time for all of us, parents, students, teachers and stakeholders to get on the same page and create a system an environment that works for our students."

NYSED said it did not have anyone available to comment. The agency provided a statement which quotes Commissioner Betty Rosa. “At a time when schools are preparing to reopen and the COVID positivity rate is increasing, we must ensure our schools and districts have the most up-to-date resources and mitigation strategies available to keep our children and school staff safe. Reopening amidst a pandemic for the second consecutive year is truly a daunting task. Our hope is that this guide, coupled with the input of local health officials will help the state’s education community as they prepare for September.”

Earlier this month, the state health department said it would not issue guidance for reopening schools, citing the ending of the state’s emergency declaration. DOH left decisions up to school districts. The New York State Education Department called the decision a dereliction of duty.

Copyright 2021 WAMC Northeast Public Radio

Dave Lucas