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NY Education Dept. releases more guidance on reopening; school districts prepare plans

Shinichi Sugiyama

The New York State Education Department issued guidance this week on how schools can reopen, including a more than 100-page document with detailed requirements and considerations. School districts across the state have been working on reopening plans and need to submit those plans for approval by July 31. If schools do reopen, there will likely be social distancing, cleaning and disinfecting protocols and daily health screenings of students and staff.

The reopening plans will include how schools will be able to do in-person instruction, monitor health conditions, contain a COVID transmission, if it happens, and return to online and distance learning, if necessary. Bob Schneider, Executive Director of the New York State School Board Association, said school districts are planning to capitalize on every square foot of space in their schools, to make sure classes are spread out. Students might be kept in certain groups.

“So they’re not mixing and mingling in a normal school day with other students, so you could contain a potential outbreak or spread, in that scenario, with COVID,” Schneider said.

Districts will need a protocol to keep a student isolated if they have symptoms, so they can be removed from school safely.

The latest reopening guidance from the Education Department emphasizes hand sanitizers throughout common areas, staggered arrival and departure times with multiple entrances to the school. It suggests 12 feet of distance for music and gym classes, held outside if possible. School assemblies, athletics and performances should be limited or canceled. Masks should be worn in hallways, restrooms, on buses, and whenever someone is within 6 feet of another person. Students may be eating lunch in the classroom, rather than the cafeteria.

Schneider said he’s concerned about the short timeline to reopen schools in six weeks, which he said is a heavy undertaking under normal circumstances. 

“The timing is tight,” Schneider said. “But one thing I want to mention is we need funding to back all this up.”

Schneider is hopeful the federal government will come through with a financial stimulus plan to help schools. Gov. Andrew Cuomo will decide in the first week of August, whether schools will reopen or not.