Friend: Governor Needs to Help Schools in Reopening, Not Chastise for State’s Mistakes

Assemblyman discovers school districts faced significant hurdles and confusion caused by the state in submitting school reopening plans

On Monday, Aug. 10 the governor said he would block 107 school districts from opening this fall, some of which were in the Southern Tier. However, after the governor’s public shaming of these schools, Assemblyman Christopher S. Friend (R,C,I-Big Flats) discovered much of the problems arose because of difficulties at the state level in the process to submit school reopening plans.

“A serious mess has been created by the governor’s process in planning for the reopening of our schools. I, along with many others, called for planning to begin much earlier so reasonable deadlines could be built into the timeline to work out many of the kinks, but the governor has made it very clear this was not about what’s best for our students but was best for his narrative and his agenda,” said Friend. “I have spoken with school superintendents in my district, and many have faced problems when trying to submit plans to the state and with little explanation or notification that there was even a problem. We’re 160 days into the pandemic and the governor still doesn’t know how to communicate or play well with other levels of government. If there were 107 missing school reopening plans, how hard would it have been to call these districts to get everyone into compliance? Apparently, it’s too difficult to pick up the phone.”

School districts were required to submit reopening plans by July 31. These plans had to be submitted at both the State Education Department (SED) and the Department of Health (DOH) websites, rather than to one portal. Submitted plans to SED received an email confirmation of receipt, while the DOH’s process caused far more problems. When a school district submitted plans to the DOH, no email confirmation was issued, only a successful submission screen if the submission didn’t encounter errors. However, in many instances there were errors, but no error notification was given, leaving many schools in the dark to any problem. In part, it was discovered that DOH is somehow unable to receive large PDF files on its website, a common document type for these reopening plans. Additionally, the interface of the DOH website led many districts to inadvertently submit the plans as business entities, rather than schools.

If it were not for reporters asking for the list of schools considered deficient in plan submissions during the phone call with the governor on Aug. 10, many school districts would not even know there has been a problem. Friend has been working with local schools that have been facing hurdles caused by DOH, but calls out the governor and his administration for failing to reach out to these school districts to help them, rather than embarrass and chastise them for a mistake caused by the state in the first place. The governor has threatened that if plan submissions aren’t rectified by Aug. 14, these schools will be ineligible to open.