New York schools got the OK to reopen for in-person class.
New York schools got the OK to reopen for in-person class.

Governor Clears New York Schools to Reopen for Fall 2020

Governor Andrew Cuomo cleared New York's public schools to reopen this fall for in-person classes if they choose given the state's current "low viral infection rate." New York's more than 700 school districts were expected to submit reopening plans to the state by now but were awaiting the governor's final decision on in-person learning. 

"If any state can do this, we can do this," said Cuomo on Friday, August 7, 2020. "New Yorkers will decide how they want to do it, school district by school district."

A number of New York school districts also released tentative 2020-2021 school reopening plans to their communities while they awaited the state decision, including New York City, the country’s largest school district. NYC is offering a hybrid schooling model, or a full remote option, to the city’s 1.1 million students.

The city's hybrid option lets kids attend the physical classroom part-time for in-person learning, combined with online classes. Parents were expected to select either a 100% remote or blended learning model by today, August 7. (They will have the option to switch during certain times of the year.) Mayor Bill de Blasio has also said that schools will not reopen at all if the city’s positive coronavirus test rate goes over 3%, using a 7-day average.

Cuomo also said that if virus cases "spike," schools would need to close again.

Whether a New York school offers full remote learning, a hybrid model, or full in-person learning, or something else, is up to each district, Governor Cuomo stressed. However, the state would like to see three things outlined and published online for each community by the end of next week:

  • A full remote learning plan
  • A testing plan for both students and teachers
  • A contact tracing plan

"If it works for the district, it works. If it works for the teachers, it works. If it works for the parents, it works," he said.

The governor also said each district is required to offer at least three (five for the largest districts) discussion sessions with local parents about its reopening plans, and at least one with its teachers, noting both groups "need an opportunity to be heard." These are expected to be completed by August 21.

"If the teachers don’t come back, you can’t open the schools. If the parents don’t send their kids, then you can’t really open schools," the governor stated again on Friday, a phrase he has repeated a few times this week.

Governor Cuomo said no one would force teachers to come to work if they were uncomfortable with a district's plan. "Teachers have to feel safe," he said. "You’re not going to order a teacher into the classroom and say, 'Do your job,' even though you don’t want to. They’re not going to be able to teach in that environment. The teachers have to agree to go back."
The governor also said he believes outdoor classrooms are a good idea. "I think outdoor learning, you have to deal with the weather, but look, it’s a lot safer," Cuomo said. "Indoors is what you want to avoid. I think it makes sense to the extent that you can do it."

More than 100 school districts still have not submitted reopening plans to the state, and another 50 were incomplete, the governor said. Reopening plans were expected by July 31, according to initial school reopening guidance issued by the state's Department of Education, which includes suggestions on mask wearing, social distancing, and other measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

Schools across the country have started to reopen for the 2020-2021 school year, and some have even temporarily closed or quarantined classrooms due to positive coronavirus tests among students or staff, including in current hot spots of Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has suggested that schools should reopen with some in-person teaching as long as local health conditions allow and new social distancing and cleaning norms are adhered to. However, a majority of the country's largest school districts, including Los Angeles and Chicago, will start their school year fully online.

New York's neighboring states of New Jersey and Connecticut, which have also seen a significant and sustained drop in positive cases, have also allowed individual school districts to reopen for in-person classes. Many are opting for hybrid models, all of which is dependent upon infection rates come September.

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