Nearly halfway through the summer break, school districts around the state are still trying to ascertain what the upcoming school year will look like in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers, parents and nearly 2.6 million students cannot afford additional delays, confusion and setbacks for another academic year. As such, legislators and education professionals have called on Gov. Cuomo and the state Department of Health to provide guidance for schools in order to properly prepare for the fall.
Earlier this month, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated school-aged children benefit greatly from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction is critical for their mental, academic and social development. It is now time for the Cuomo Administration to bring New York state’s school guidance in line with CDC recommendations. We already witnessed unnecessary confusion and chaos in May when the state announced its last-minute mask rules for child-care settings. This year, it’s imperative that state officials learn from their mistakes. Above all else, the state must provide clarity and consistency to our school districts. Too often, those elements were sorely lacking when parents, teachers and administrators tried to manage unprecedented challenges.
The state of emergency in New York has been lifted, COVID-19 infection rates have diminished greatly and vaccinations continue to thwart the spread of the virus. We have made significant progress and must continue to move forward and resume normal day-to-day activities – including getting New York’s youngest residents safely back into the classroom.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was necessary for in-classroom learning to shift to online instruction from home. And while not ideal, during the 2020-2021 school year many districts employed a combination of in-person and remote learning; however, schools shouldn’t be expected to operate under prolonged uncertainty.
With 731 school districts in New York state, there are bound to be differences from district to district, region to region, but clearly-stated guidelines and pandemic-related protocols for September are critical to ensure districts can finalize student schedules, bus runs, athletic and extracurricular agendas and classroom and cafeteria setups.
Once schools can establish their reopening plans, parents, too, can better prepare for returning to work full-time and lining up childcare, all integral components to help families and the state overcome another economic hurdle.
Without a doubt, the state’s educational landscape has faced enormous obstacles. New York’s teachers, educators and students’ ability to adapt during this unprecedented educational disruption has been remarkable. But, the time has come to return to the classroom five days a week, reengage struggling students and course correct bad habits created while learning remotely. The state must act with precision and urgency – our educators, students and parents deserve nothing less.
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