Only a few months ago, New York was considered the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. But now, as a new academic school year looms around the corner, New York is paving the way for students to return to school for in-person learning.
“We’ve been smart from day one. We do the masks, we do the social distancing, we’ve kept that infection rate down,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said during his school reopening announcement. “And we can bring the same level of intelligence to the school reopening that we brought to the economic reopening.”
The Parameters to Reopen Schools
Governor Cuomo announced school reopening parameters in July. Schools have permission to reopen if their region’s 14-day average daily infection rate remains below 5%. Though those parameters felt steep and even unobtainable in the spring, all regions of New York now qualify to reopen schools.
“All schools can open,” Cuomo said during the news conference. “If anyone can open schools, we can open schools,” he said, adding, “we have the best infection rate in the country.”
However, it’s in the hands of each local school district whether to actually commence in-person learning in September or return to the virtual model used in the spring. Some, such as New York City’s school system, are opting for a blended model of in-person and distance learning instead.
Each school district must submit a reopening plan to the New York State Department of Health, which will review each plan for approval. If a region at any point exceeds a 5% daily infection rate, schools will be required to close until the infection rate decreases.
All New York school districts are also mandated by the state to publicly post their plans for distance learning, testing, and contact tracing.
NYC’s School Response to COVID-19
In NYC, where COVID-19 caused widespread devastation, Major Bill de Blasio is determined to reopen in September with a blended learning model of virtual and on-site learning.
However, according to a group of 31 City Council members, there are still “far too many unanswered questions” to safely reopen New York City public schools for in-person learning in September.
“With so much ambiguity around the City’s ability to re-open schools safely, a majority of the New York City Council is calling for the Mayor to pause and delay the reopening of schools, which allows the DOE time to better plan, from both a safety and an academic perspective,” the Council wrote in a letter to the Department of Education and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
However, de Blasio is still pressing forward in support of the hybrid learning model. “We need to help our kids begin the pathway to life coming back to normal,” he said at a press conference. “We need to support them. They’ve already lost so much. We need to be there for them and help them move forward.”
The Department of Education has spoken out in support of de Blasio’s measures. Spokesperson Miranda Barbot stated, “With a 1% infection rate, NYC is the safest city to reopen its doors this fall.”
With just a few weeks until students are scheduled to return, parents will wait to see how their local districts tackle the issue of education in the age of COVID-19.