Reopening guidance a help to school leaders in New York

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HOOSICK, N.Y. — Local school administrators have a little more clarity when it comes to re-opening schools in New York state, after guidance from both the State Education Department and Governor Andrew Cuomo's office came out on Monday.

Cuomo, at his press conference, discussed a formula based on a region's level of coronavirus infection rates.

Schools will reopen if a region is in Phase 4 and the daily infection rate remains below 5% for a 14-day average between now and the first week of August. At that point, if the regional infection rate is greater than 9% (on a 7-day average) after August 1, schools would remain closed.

On Monday, the regional infection rate for the Capital District was 0.9 percent.

The New York Board of Regents also presented a framework of guidance, with more specific guidelines coming later this week. They are telling school districts to make three different plans, one that is for a return to in-person learning, remote or virtual learning and a combination of the two.

"It definitely answered some questions for us," said Hoosick Falls superintendent Patrick Dailey. "It gives us more of a skeleton to develop our own plans."

The presentation on Monday included that students and staff will have to wear masks. Schools will also be required to perform health checks and screenings, develop a plan to maximize social distancing and develop cleaning and disinfecting procedures in accordance with CDC and Department of Health guidance.

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The health and safety plan was one of nine "baskets" that the Regents discussed in its framework. Another is nutrition, where schools learned that regardless if a school is in-person or remote, the school is responsible for providing breakfasts and lunches each day.

"[If we are virtual], the food program would be similar to what we had in the spring," Dailey said.

A third basket deals with transportation, with guidance on how to clean school buses, different route considerations and how drop-off and pick-up should work.

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The Regents stressed that New York state is large and diverse, so it won't be a "one-size fits all" model to reopen.

"Creating a framework to reopen New York's schools has been an undertaking of paramount effort, made even more difficult by the devastating impact the pandemic has had here in New York State," said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa. "This framework and the guidance which will follow allows schools to plan for the upcoming school year under three different scenarios that aim to keep our children, educators and school personnel safe and encourages equitable access to high-quality services for all students."

While the framework is helpful, Dailey said the official guidance later this week will address some of the exact questions.

"We're still waiting for more specifically in what we can and can't do," Dailey said. "We're waiting for some final regulations, for things like class sizes, specific transportation issues and getting a final word on face shields versus face coverings."

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Dailey said that equability of access is very important.

"Distance learning makes it tough, some people don't have a lot of access, geographically," Dailey said. "But first and foremost, it has to be safe."

Local superintendents have to have plans sent to the state by July 31. Plans can be sent as early as this Friday.

"We will be as prepared as we can be by July 31," Dailey said. "The governor may come back and say there needs to be changes, but at least we'll be able to adjust."

Dailey said that he and the teachers want to be back in school with the students.

"We all do, but we need to do it safely," Dailey said. "Online learning does have its perks, but at the end of the day we want to be with the kids in a safe way."


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