Cuomo: New York schools can open if covid-19 infection rates are low

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaking about COVID-19 spread in New York state (Photo videograb Twitter NYGovCuomo)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said Friday that schools in the state can open for in-person instruction for the 2020-21 school year if community covid-19 infection rates are low – but that it is up to the more than 700 districts to decide when and how they will begin.

Cuomo was able to approve in-person instruction because New York, once the nation’s main hotbed of the covid-19 pandemic, now has one of the lowest novel coronavirus infection rates of any state – about 1 percent. He said schools can reopen as long as the positivity rate is below 5 percent, using a 14-day average.

“If anyone can open schools, we can open schools,” he said at a news conference to announce the decision. “That’s true for every region in the state, period.

President Donald Trump has been pushing schools to reopen fully, although it appears that most students in the country will start the new school year online because covid-19 rates are surging in many places.

Cuomo’s decision means that the New York City public schools, the largest school district in the country, can reopen school buildings if it wants – but it is not clear yet whether that will happen.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has said schools can open there – and remain open – only if the positivity rate is below 3 percent, and the city now has a rate of 1 percent or less.

The 1.1 million students in New York City public schools are supposed to start the academic year Sept. 10, and the city’s Education Department has put forth plans for a hybrid arrangement in which parents can send students to school buildings a few days a week. Those who want to keep their children at home will have the option of full virtual learning. Under the blended learning plan, most students would be in school buildings for two or three days a week.

De Blasio, who has control over the city’s school system, said he will not decide on reopening until the end of the summer when he sees whether the rate is still very low. He has said he won’t open schools – or would close them again – if the rate is over 3 percent.

But the teachers union has made clear its growing dissatisfaction with the city’s safety plans for reopening, and although striking is illegal, its leader, Michael Mulgrew, told members he would do what he has to do to prevent schools from opening if he does not think it is safe. On Aug. 3, New York teachers marched in the streets, some of them carrying coffins, to oppose the reopening of schools.

Also against the Education Department’s reopening plan is Mark Treyger, chairman of the City Council’s Education Committee. He wrote recently that the proposal “attempts to deal equally with all students and schools under constrained resources” but instead “will end up exacerbating the inequities that have come to a head under remote learning.”



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