Schools to Reopen; Bedford, Hen Hud Refute Cuomo on Lack of Plan

Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the go-ahead for schools to reopen for the 2020-21 academic year last Friday provided districts submitted an in-person plan that is approved by the state.

However, the governor’s office released a statement Monday afternoon revealing that two local districts were among the 107 across New York that had not yet filed reopening plans.

In Westchester, the Bedford and Hendrick Hudson school districts appeared on the governor’s list of districts that had failed to submit plans.

The threshold of having a regional transmission rate of less than 5 percent for a school to resume some level of in-class instruction was easily met. The seven-day rolling average on the state’s website through Sunday showed all of the state’s 10 regions at or near 1 percent except for the North Country, which was barely above 0 percent.

Daily transmission rates in all 10 regions were below 1 percent on both Saturday and Sunday except for Long Island’s test results on Sunday, which stood at 1.2 percent.

“Every region is well below our COVID infection limit, therefore all school districts are authorized to open,” Cuomo tweeted last Friday. “If the infection rate spikes, the guidance will change accordingly.”

However, Cuomo threatened the delinquent districts by saying that if the state fails to receive plans from those school systems by the end of this week, their buildings would remain shuttered. He said districts’ plans have to pass muster with parents and teachers who would be the arbiters of whether they are adequate for a community.

“If they don’t submit a plan by this Friday, they can’t open,” Cuomo bluntly stated.

However, there were reports that officials from districts around the state had submitted plans that were not recorded as being received. On Monday, the Bedford School District issued a statement refuting the governor’s assertion that it had failed to meet the state’s deadline.

“We submitted our plans to the New York State Department of Education several weeks ago and have since submitted our plans to the NYSDOH,” Bedford’s statement read. “Please be assured that all our plans have been submitted to the appropriate state agencies.”

The district’s website also had a link to its 2020-21 reopening plan.

Two weeks ago, administrators announced its recommended plan of opening schools five days a week for students in grades K-2 and a hybrid plan for the remainder of Bedford’s students.

Hendrick Hudson officials similarly provided a statement saying that it had submitted a return-to-school plan on July 31 and instructional plans on Aug. 5. Those were also posted on that district’s website.

“While the Hendrick Hudson School District currently appears on a list put out by the Governor’s office of schools that did not submit plans for in-person learning, it is believed to be in error,” according to the district’s statement. “The District received multiple confirmations that its plans were submitted and accepted, and it expects the state to update and correct its information in the next few days.”

The governor’s office also stated that each district must complete three to five public sessions with parents and teachers and post their plans for remote learning, testing and tracing on their website by Aug. 21 to be in compliance with state standards.

While the state must sort out the confusion regarding the submission of reopening plans, the New York State Union of Teachers (NYSUT) warned that infection rates is not the only consideration when deciding to open schools. NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said that educators and parents are anxious about individual plans. About 50 districts’ plans have been considered incomplete.

Among the concerns is lack of guidance on specific procedures for closure, testing and contact tracing in the event of a COVID-19 case in a school, Pallotta said.

“Right now, there may be some areas where parents and educators are confident in their district’s plan, but in many others, we know they aren’t,” he said. “No district should consider themselves ready to reopen buildings until their plans are safe and everything in that plan meant to keep the school community safe is implemented.”

Pallotta suggested that in districts where there are concerns, school officials should phase in the reopening of buildings.