NEW YORK — Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that if the COVID-19 virus remains under control in the state, schools will be allowed to reopen this fall under strict guidelines, including masks and social distancing.
Cuomo said schools can reopen if a region is in Phase 4 and the daily infection rate remains below five percent on a 14-day average since the unPAUSE order was lifted. The state will assess districts using that metric the week of August 1.
After August 1, schools could be forced to close if the regional infection rate rises above nine percent on a seven day average.
"Once you get a green light to reopen, then how you reopen, you follow the guidelines and we leave it to the 700 school districts across the state to come up with the specific plan pursuant to those guidelines," Cuomo said. "We have done state health guidelines, the State Department of Education is doing state education guidelines, which will incorporate our health guidelines."
The governor said districts must develop flexible plans, including maximizing the use of available space in a school, such as gyms, as well as in the community to expand in-class instruction.
Districts must implement screening procedures, including daily temperature checks to monitor symptoms among students and staff. State and local health departments must be notified of any positive cases, which could potentially include the closure of a class, area or building. Schools must also take part in the state's contact tracing program. Infected or exposed areas must be cleaned and disinfected
Face coverings are strongly recommended at all times, except for meals and classroom instruction even with social distancing. Districts will be allowed to require face coverings, even during instruction, in communities with higher infection rates. School plans should include mask breaks for students when and where students can socially distance.
Masks will also be required on buses. Meals will be served in a combination of classrooms and cafeterias if social distancing cannot be maintained in the cafeteria alone.
"We want masks and PPE whenever students or staff can not maintain social distancing," Cuomo said. "Masks work. They work for children, they work for teachers, they work for everyone. We have social distancing, six-feet separation, we have cohort structures in the guidelines, guidelines on transportation, food service, after care, extra curricular activities. Every child and person entering will be screened. Tracing has to work in the schools."
School plans must also allow for before and aftercare. Any extracurricular activities must follow New York State procedures.
Niagara Falls Superintendent of Schools Mark Laurrie is, like many of his colleagues, eager to get the actual guidelines for re-opening. Districts have been planning for a variety of scenarios, and Laurrie believes the plans in one district may vary from another, in order to make them practical for a given district.