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Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Friday that all New York schools can reopen for at least some in-person classes this fall, citing the state’s ongoing progress in suppressing COVID-19. Though multiple significant concerns remain about the safety and logistics of reopening school buildings amid the pandemic, Cuomo’s announcement was an important, albeit expected, green light to any school districts that aim to bring back students in some capacity.
It is also important to note that Cuomo is not requiring schools to reopen by any measure, simply confirming that they are authorized to do so, as long as there is no backslide in any region’s average infection rate.
“You look at our [statewide] infection rate, you’re probably in the best situation in the country, so, of course, we can open schools and that’s true for every region in the state,” the governor said. Cuomo added that school districts need to make public their plans for remote learning, testing, and contact tracing — and should hold at least three town hall meetings with parents and school community members before August 21 to go over reopening plans, as well as at least one town hall just for teachers. He also acknowledged that there are still some unknowns around testing and test-result delays. It is also not yet clear how enforcement will work regarding any of these issues, and Cuomo did not get into many specifics.
The likelihood of districts reopening schools, particularly in New York City, remains an open and very active debate, and major hurdles remain. Shortly after Cuomo’s announcement, Mayor Bill de Blasio reiterated that New York City schools “will reopen safely” provided the COVID-19 infection rate does not rise above 3 percent, but that is far from the final word on the matter, especially since the NYC Department of Education and teachers unions are still at odds over the plans, and infection rates continue to vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. New York City is currently the only large school system in the country that is still considering in-person classes this fall.