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School groups respond to Cuomo's decision to reopen

Fri, Aug 7th 2020 04:25 pm

Different state education groups responded Friday to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to reopen schools for in-class education.

New York State School Boards Association

Statement of NYSSBA Executive Director Robert Schneider

It is encouraging to hear that New York’s COVID-19 rates remain well within the threshold set for schools to be able to reopen with in-person instruction this fall. Districts will continue to strive toward that possibility.

But school boards also understand that it may be necessary to turn quickly to other options for remote or hybrid instruction if community sentiment or if staff and student safety considerations make that the prudent choice.

Our districts are working tirelessly to craft plans that will suit the individual, unique needs of each community. While the preliminary deadline for submitting plans is upon us, we know that August will be a month of continued intense work by our administrators, staff and others to prepare for whatever reality faces us when the time comes to start school in September.

We look forward to gaining more clarity regarding the extent and frequency of testing and contact tracing that is possible in our communities. We also welcome opportunities to continue our conversations with our parents and teachers, share our plans with them and gather local feedback.

But we must note that any plans we craft will be worth little if we lack the federal funding to carry out the plans we all are working so hard to put together.

The New York State School Boards Association represents more than 670 school boards and more than 5,200 school board members in New York. NYSSBA provides advocacy, training and information to school boards in support of their mission to govern the state's public schools.

New York State United Teachers

Statement from New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta.

We have been clear all along: Health and safety is the most important consideration in reopening school buildings. Viral infection rates tell only one part of the story. Many educators and parents have anxiety about local school district reopening plans that have been submitted to the state – if they even have been yet, with 127 districts that didn’t bother to submit them by last week and 50 considered incomplete by the state. Among the concerns that remain is the lack of guidance on specific procedures for closure, testing and contact tracing in the event of a COVID-19 case in a school. 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. 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. Being safe means parents and teachers must be confident in the reopening plan, and it is welcome news that districts must meet with parents and teachers this month. We’re thankful the governor agrees that forcing people back into the classroom when they feel their health is threatened is not what should happen. So if districts need to phase in the reopening of buildings, so be it. We must err on the side of caution. Period.

NYSUT poll: 81 percent of union members say health and safety should drive school reopening

Also from NYSUT: Eighty-one percent of New York school staff members say the health and safety of students and staff should be the deciding factor in reopening schools, according to a poll of New York State United Teachers members released Thursday.

In fact, 50% of NYSUT members say they are reluctant or unwilling to go back to in-person instruction this fall amid ongoing concerns over the health and safety of reopening school buildings. Of those who say they are not ready, their overwhelming concerns are their personal safety, the safety of their students and the safety of their colleagues.

Results of the poll can be found here.

Many local unions across New York this week have expressed a lack of confidence in the reopening plans submitted by school districts to the state. Given the concern, NYSUT strongly recommends the state enable and encourage those districts to implement a phased-in approach to reopening school buildings, working with parents and local unions, to continue addressing these health and safety concerns.

“While there may not be a one-size-fits-all approach to reopening, NYSUT members have made clear that health and safety needs to drive the decision,” Pallotta said. “We know there are some districts that developed plans by listening to the concerns of educators and others who developed flawed plans that ignore legitimate health and safety needs. At the end of the day, educators, students and parents must be able to trust the decisions made. Simply put: We must continue using the time between now and September to get this right for each community together. No district should consider themselves ready to reopen until their plans are safe and fully implemented.”

When it comes to safety measures in schools, 81% of NYSUT members are in favor of requiring students to wear masks at all times while in school buildings. State guidance encourages the wearing of masks at all times while in a school building. While many district plans are taking this seriously, too many district plans allow for masks to be removed for large portions of the school day, putting everyone at risk.

Among other issues the poll identified is the pandemic-related need for childcare for thousands of educators and school staff members, just as this issue is a budding crisis for all parents, regardless of what industry they work in. At issue is the likelihood of differences in the reopening plans between school districts some NYSUT members work in and the districts their children attend.

To make a return to the classroom possible, 32% of NYSUT members say they will need child care, with 78% of those members saying they are concerned about finding affordable child care. Child care needs are greatest among members younger than 40. Forty-three percent of those members say they will need child care if asked to return to school in person.

Finally, the poll also shows 55% of teachers age 55 or older are considering early retirement as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Planning for reopening means addressing a child care crisis before it overwhelms us and making every effort to address the concerns of those who feel leaving education altogether is their best option given the current path we’re on,” Pallotta said. “Particularly in the midst of a teacher shortage, we can’t allow this pandemic to force highly trained, experienced educators into a corner. Whether it’s seeking greater clarity from the state or accommodations from districts, our work continues.”

Hart Research Associates conducted an online poll of 1,118 NYSUT members working in K-12 schools outside of New York City. The margin of error is +/- 3%.

New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

Alliance for Quality Education

In response to Gov. Cuomo’s announcement allowing New York State school districts to reopen in the fall if the COVID-19 infection rate remains low, the public education advocacy organization Alliance for Quality Education released the following statement:

“The lack of leadership from state leaders and failure to provide adequate resources to schools at this time has forced an impossible decision on parents, students and educators, pitting their family’s health, their economic security and their children’s futures against each other," said Jasmine Gripper, executive director, Alliance for Quality Education. “School leaders are doing the best they can with the resources they have, but the lack of funding from New York State has created an unacceptable situation where districts are unable to adequately provide for students’ educational, health and safety needs.

“Schools serving predominantly Black, brown and low-income students, which have been chronically underfunded by New York state, now face even greater challenges. Districts need additional funding in order to reduce class sizes, purchase technology and train educators in new teaching practices.

“New York has not used the time since school buildings closed in March to make a more informed, thoughtful, or careful plan about how to reopen schools, nor to creatively address the critical issues that emerged in remote learning settings in the spring.

“If we had invested in remote learning at the outset, we would have been able to better prepare for more equitable access to remote education now, providing the necessary training and materials for families, students and educators to thrive. Every school district is planning for remote learning in some capacity, yet many families and children still lack devices, high-speed internet, and essential services. With just a few weeks left until schools reopen, we are scrambling to resolve issues that we have been aware of for months.

“Without resources, New York’s most vulnerable students will lose out on the coming school year – a year of education, opportunity and development that we will never be able to replace. The New York State Legislature must act now to raise taxes on the ultra-rich to invest in our public schools. Failing to act now will set us back decades, baking the pandemic’s inequitable impacts into the fabric of our society, yet again failing to meet the needs of Black, brown and low-income children.”

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