Ithaca, NY — On Friday, Assemblymember Anna Kelles, Assemblymember Patricia Fahy, and 25 colleagues sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker urging the New York State Department of Health to update guidelines for K-12 schools to reflect the existing science used to formulate new federal guidelines issued by the CDC. As stated in the letter, “There are 13 weeks left in the school year, and it is imperative that we act to safely increase in-person instruction this academic year for both elementary and secondary students. While research about the impact of the state of student’s mental health is ongoing, practitioners have observed that existing disparities are worsening.” Teachers have been eligible for vaccines since the start of the rollout and using the precautions outlined in the letter have been shown to provide significant protections.
Full letter copied below:
March 26, 2020
Dr. Howard Zucker
Commissioner, New York State Department of Health Corning Tower
Empire State Plaza,
Albany, NY 12237
On March 9, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their operational strategy guidelines for K-12 schools, reflecting new evidence on the impacts of COVID-19 transmission as it relates to physical distance in classrooms. The CDC notes in its most recent guidance that, given the critical educational and other services offered by schools, it is crucial that K-12 schools open and remain open for in-person instruction as safely and as soon as possible. We are writing to urge a prompt update of New York State Department of Health guidelines for K-12 schools to reflect the evidence used to formulate new federal guidelines.
There are 13 weeks left in the school year, and it is imperative that we act as a State to safely increase in-person instruction this academic year for both elementary and secondary students. While research about the impact of the state of student’s mental health is ongoing, practitioners have observed that existing disparities are worsening. In a CDC study released on March 18, researchers found that students of color were twice as likely to be engaged in remote learning compared to white students, implying that they were also more likely to suffer the health and psychological impacts of learning from home. Another survey of over 1200 parents of children aged 5-12 conducted by the CDC, children receiving virtual or hybrid instruction were reported to have worsened mental or emotional health, decreased physical activity, and less time spent outdoors than those receiving in-person instruction. Additionally, parents of children receiving virtual, or hybrid instruction were more likely to report their own emotional distress related to balancing work and childcare. In fact, parents of children receiving virtual, or hybrid instruction were more likely to be at greater risk on 11 of 17 indicators of child and parental well-being as compared to those with children attending school in person.
We urge you to direct that NYDOH update guidelines for classroom spacing according to the recent guidance from the CDC:
- In elementary schools, CDC recommends all students remain at least 3 feet apart in classrooms where mask use is universal — regardless of whether community transmission is low, moderate, substantial, or high.
- In middle and high schools, CDC also recommends students should be at least 3 feet apart in classrooms where mask use is universal and in communities where transmission is low, moderate, or substantial.
- Middle school students and high school students should be at least 6 feet apart in communities where transmission is high, if cohorting is not possible. This recommendation is because COVID-19 transmission dynamics are different in older students – that is, they are more likely to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and spread it than younger children.
- Currently the guidance allows for less than 6 feet of distance if barriers are used. These barriers are unnecessary, expensive and creating extra waste. We request that guidance requiring their use be reconsidered.
- Guidelines regarding contact tracing should be revised to reflect the new 3-foot guidance.
- We also recommend that NYDOH issue guidance on bus transportation for students to reflect the change in distance requirements so we can get more students back in school.
Again, the CDC itself notes in its most recent guidance that “...given the critical services offered by schools, it is crucial that K-12 schools open and remain open for in-person instruction as safely and as soon as possible... schools should be the last institutions to close and the first to reopen safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter affecting New York’s students, families, and school staff.
Assemblymember Patricia Fahy
Assemblymember Anna Kelles
Assemblymember Jennifer Lunsford
Assemblymember Monica Wallace
Assemblymember Didi Barrett
Assemblymember Tom Abinanti
Assemblymember Marianne Buttchenson
Assemblymember Patrick Burke
Assemblymember Judy Griffin
Assemblymember Pamela Hunter
Assemblymember Taylor Darling
Assemblymember Jonathan Jacobson
Assemblymember Aileen Gunther
Assemblymember Donna Lupardo
Assemblymember John McDonald
Assemblymember Kimberly Jean-Pierre
Assemblymember Amy Paulin
Assemblymember Charles Lavine
Assemblymember Gina Sillitti
Assemblymember Willam Magnarelli
Assemblymember Phil Steck
Assemblymember Karen McMahon
Assemblymember Gary Pretlow
Assemblymember Michaelle Solages
Assemblymember Albert Stirpe
Assemblymember Steve Stern
Assemblymember Carrie Woerner
Speaker Carl Heastie
Governor Andrew Cuomo