Cuomo: School reopening depends on parent confidence

Courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a pandemic briefing in June. On Saturday, Cuomo in a telephone briefing said school districts must make sure parents are comfortable with school reopening plans if those plans are to succeed.

ALBANY — Schools must make parents confident in their reopening plans because parental comfort is the strongest driving force behind New York school districts reopening this fall, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday.

The state is reviewing about 650 plans school districts submitted to safely reopen amid the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the governor said during a telephone conference call late Saturday morning. Officials are pushing districts for more detailed plans about how they will keep students safe if they return to campus this fall, including how they will procure adequate testing supplies and personal protective equipment, and secure quick turnaround time for COVID-19 results as national labs experience logjams and testing delays.

“The burden is on the district to make parents comfortable,” Gov. Cuomo said. “It is not the school district’s decision. It’s not my decision — it’s the parent’s decision, and they’re taking this decision seriously.

“I am talking to parents all across the state — I’m getting a deluge of parents who are concerned, and they should be concerned,” the governor added. “It’s not flicking a switch. ... You can say ‘OK, school reopens,’ but if parents are not comfortable, children will not be sent.”

The governor said Friday and Saturday that schools should plan on reopening, but parents’ comfort level will be a major variable. School districts planning to depend on remote learning must meet different challenges, Cuomo said, such as ensuring students have access to the proper technology or internet access to complete work.

Several districts of the state’s roughly 700 schools missed the state’s July 31 deadline to submit reopening plans. Officials set the deadline for plan submissions last month. New York City, the state’s largest district, had not submitted a plan as of Saturday afternoon.

Most have focused the school reopening discussions on the state’s final decision, which officials are expected to announce by Friday, but Gov. Cuomo said parents may not feel it’s safe for their children to return to the classroom, especially as medical experts study the long-term effects of the virus.

“This is not a dictatorial decision,” the governor said. “Parents need to review the plan to understand the plan. They have to have confidence in the plan. ... There will be many parents if they feel their child is going to be subjected to danger, they’re just not going to do it.”

Schools and universities must decide how often they will test students, faculty and staff to keep them safe. Coronavirus testing is critical to serve as an “early detection system” and keep virus numbers low.

The governor raised several questions districts must answer before students return.

“How many are you going to do on the first day of school?” Gov. Cuomo said. “How long will it take to turn around the tests? Where are you going to take that testing capacity? Because we know the turnaround times are going up of those tests.

“Those are the vital questions. [Parents] know the questions, and if we don’t have answers for them, they’re going to conclude we haven’t thought through the plan.”

Reopening plans will vary between each district, college and university.

The state’s decision to not allow overnight camp programs to operate for children this summer was the correct precaution, Cuomo said Saturday, after reports of a coronavirus outbreak of 76 percent of campers and staff at a sleepaway camp in Georgia less than two weeks after opening.

Similar precautions must be considered as officials continue to discuss the state’s decision to reopen schools and universities to in-person learning this fall.

“We’re talking about reopening schools and young people and the possibility of infection — these are real circumstances that have to be considered,” Cuomo said.

The state increased enforcement of its COVID-19 mandates as virus infections have spiked in young New Yorkers ages 21 to 30. The majority of college-aged students in that bracket must take the proper precautions in wearing face masks and avoiding crowds or reckless decisions if they return to campus next semester, the governor said.

State officials continue to monitor New York’s COVID-19 numbers as the virus soars in 34 states across the U.S., the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The state reported 581 virus patients in the hospital Saturday.

Four New Yorkers died from the virus Friday, down from five Thursday. The state’s virus-related fatalities have fluctuated below 15 per day for several weeks.

The state reported 753 new COVID-19 cases, or about 0.91 percent positive, of the 82,737 tests conducted Friday — the single largest number of tests conducted in the state in one day since the pandemic began.

Saturday marked five months, or 154 days, since New York’s first confirmed coronavirus case.

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