Gov. Kathy Hochul wants state health officials to establish COVID-19 testing requirements for unvaccinated school teachers and expand vaccine requirements for health staff. These proposals come with a significant caveat: Hochul wants localities to set their own policies with minimal advice from state government.
This sort of leeway suggests former Gov. Andrew Cuomo holding press conferences at which executive orders were followed by a hearty, “That’s all I’ve got. The ball is in your court, municipalities.”
It’s all in the context, however, so if we are to have in-person school close to pre-pandemic conditions, the mandates should be followed.
Mandatory testing must clear legal hurdles before classes begin after Labor Day. We have to believe these mandates will make schools safer for our children and provide a more relaxed environment for teachers. We also have to believe that our local education leaders are ready to cope with any problems we are likely to meet.
Another point to stress is the state and local school districts must spend $585 million in COVID relief aid wisely on the school testing program. Testing is required to safely resume in-person classroom instruction. And it will be a bargain for school taxpayers. Districts will not have to foot the bill.
Some parents critical of the mandates argue that masking should be a personal choice, that it infringes on their rights and that it impairs their children’s ability to learn. Imagine unmasked schools feeling the wrath of a new COVID surge and a return to the catch-as-catch-can hybrid and distance-learning models. We don’t think anyone wants that.
In the third school year buffeted by COVID, we can’t afford to mortgage another year of education for the children of a generation displaced by the coronavirus. Gov. Hochul is willing to make the tough calls and she should have our support.