ALBANY — New York schools have the green light to reopen this fall as the coronavirus pandemic continues, but state infection and transmission numbers remain low, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday.
Gov. Cuomo made the announcement that school districts, colleges and universities statewide can reopen this fall on a conference call with reporters late Friday morning.
“All school districts can open everywhere in the state,” the governor said. “Based on our infection rate, New York State is in the best possible situation right now. If any state can open schools, this state can do it. Every region is below the threshold we established, which is just great news.”
Last month, the state released guidance detailing schools could reopen in September for regions in Phase IV of reopening with a COVID-19 infection rate under 5 percent over a 14-day average. Schools will close if a region’s infection rate surges above 9 percent over a seven-day average since Aug. 1.
Each of the state’s 10 regions reported a consistent, low rate of 1.2 percent or lower of new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
“If there’s a spike in the infection rate or a matter of concern in the infection rate, we can revisit it,” Gov. Cuomo said.
The state’s 749 districts had to submit reopening plans to the state Department of Health to review. As of Friday, 127 districts have not submitted plans to the department. About 50 school districts, including New York City, the nation’s largest school district, submitted incomplete plans, or plans that need more detail for approval.
“We have been clear all along: Health and safety is the most important consideration in reopening school buildings,” New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said in a statement Friday. “Viral infection rates tell only one part of the story. Right now, there may be some areas where parents and educators are confident in their district’s plan, but in many others, we know they aren’t.”
Parents and teachers remain concerned over a lack of guidance on procedures for closure, testing and contact tracing in the event of a positive COVID-19 case in a school. A school cannot reopen without the Department of Health’s go-ahead.
Schools must hold three to five public meetings with parents by Aug. 21, who will be allowed to participate remotely, and at least one meeting with teachers to review district reopening guidelines.
“There is a significant number of anxiety and concern,” Gov. Cuomo said. “If teachers don’t come back, you can’t really open the schools.”
Teachers will not be forced to instruct students in person if they are uncomfortable with their district’s reopening guidelines.
“That’s not the nature of our relationship,” Gov. Cuomo said. “They’re not going to be able to teach in that environment.
“There is no one size fits all,” he added. “I can’t fashion a plan that will work in every school.”
School reopening plans will vary by district, including when, or if, in-person classes will resume, as parents and teachers will have differing questions or concerns across the state.
“No district should consider themselves ready to reopen buildings until their plans are safe and everything in that plan meant to keep the school community safe is implemented,” Mr. Pallotta said. “Being safe means parents and teachers must be confident in the reopening plan, and it is welcome news that districts must meet with parents and teachers this month.”
Students, faculty and staff must wear face masks at all times when social distancing is not possible, Empire State Development Director Jim Malatras said.
“If a family or student does not have a mask, the school must provide one,” he said, adding the rule will ensure the maximum level of health compliance.
Interscholastic sports are not approved in the state, Mr. Malatras said.
Districts are exploring a myriad of options, including remote, outdoor or partial-day instruction, or a hybrid of multiple learning models.
“Our districts are working tirelessly to craft plans that will suit the individual, unique needs of each community,” NYSSBA Executive Director Robert Schneider said in a statement Friday. “While the preliminary deadline for submitting plans is upon us, we know that August will be a month of continued intense work by our administrators, staff and others to prepare for whatever reality faces us when the time comes to start school in September.”
School districts must post remote learning plans and plans for diagnostic testing and contact tracing online for parents and teachers to review.
Department of Health officials will continue to review the plans over the weekend and into next week, the governor said.
Gov. Cuomo sent a letter to the state’s congressional delegation with Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, outlining the urgent need for federal aid to state and local governments as lawmakers continue to negotiate the next coronavirus relief bill on Capitol Hill.
The state expects a $30 billion budget shortfall over two years — $14 billion in 2020 and an anticipated $16 billion next year — with a roughly $12 billion deficit for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and $3 billion for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which could delay construction at LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy international airports.
Without federal aid, the state expects widespread 20 percent cuts to healthcare, education and localities.
Gov. Cuomo also said Friday local governments are not doing enough to enforce the state’s social distancing and mask wearing orders. The state’s supplemental enforcement task force, comprised of state police and state Liquor Authority investigators, issued violations to 14 establishments in the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan and on Long Island on Thursday night.
State officials continue to monitor New York’s COVID-19 numbers as the virus soars across the U.S., the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The state reported 579 virus patients in the hospital Friday — an increase of nine.
Five New Yorkers died from the virus Thursday, which is up from three on Wednesday. The state’s virus-related fatalities have fluctuated below 15 per day for nearly two months.
The state reported 714 new COVID-19 cases Friday of 70,170 test results returned, or about 1 percent positive.
“These numbers are all about flat,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Our performance is extraordinary in this sea of spread.”