New York State Outlines the When and Hows of a Return to School

Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers coronavirus briefing, July 13, 2020. (Office of the Governor)

New York parents and educators got some long-awaited answers to their back-to-school questions Monday, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo saying schools will be allowed to open in areas where the coronavirus is under control and with education officials outlining a raft of guidance for whether that happens in-person, remotely or a combination of both.

Each of the state’s 700 school districts has until the end of this month to detail school-by-school reopening plans.

Cuomo said they will be able to move forward with them in regions that are both in phase four of the state’s overall reopening and have seen average daily infection rates of 5% or less for two weeks.

“Common sense and intelligence can still determine what we do even in this crazy environment,” Cuomo said during a briefing. “We’re not going to use our children as guinea pigs.”

Students and teachers returning to buildings will be screened for illness, wear masks or face shields and keep six feet of distance when possible. Mandatory fire drills and lockdown drills will continue with social distancing and districts may have to stagger start times, install partitions or change hallway traffic patterns to reduce congestion.

If students are learning from home, districts should do everything in their power to provide devices and internet connectivity to students and staff and have a plan to reach absentee students, education officials said while previewing for the Board of Regents full guidance being released Wednesday.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the inequitable access to technology and internet services in students’ places of residence is a priority to be addressed. The closure of New York schools and subsequent shift to remote learning only put a brighter spotlight on this urgent need,” said Shannon Logan, the state Education Department’s technology policy coordinator.

Schools also must make sure that teachers interact with students every day, and not just to take attendance or check in, officials said, citing a recurring theme from students who weighed in on the plans.

“They actually need instruction,” Regent Lester Young said. “There’s no substitute for that contact with their teacher.”

Cuomo said districts will learn in the first week of August whether they can reopen for the fall, but a subsequent spike that sends the infection rate past 9% would halt the plans.

Also Monday, the governor said New York plans to levy a $2,000 fine against certain travelers who leave airports in the state without submitting a form that says where the travelers are arriving from and where they’re going.

Cuomo said the fines would apply to travelers from the list of states — including Texas and Florida — who are required to quarantine for 14 days under New York’s travel advisory.

“You can then be brought to a hearing and ordered to complete mandatory quarantine,” Cuomo said. “None of this is pleasant, but we’ve gone through this.”

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