BUFFALO, N.Y. — As school leaders are preparing for the upcoming academic year, the New York State Education Department on Thursday released a Health and Safety Guide for the 2021-2022 School Year.
This comes after many districts were caught off guard when the state’s health commissioner said he would not issue safety recommendations.
The newly released guide is meant to provide schools with a resource to safely start the school year as they develop their own plans. The guidance is based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Both agencies suggest universal indoor masking in K-12 schools regardless of vaccination status and community transmission levels.
In addition to indoor mask-wearing, the CDC also recommends at least three feet distance between students within classrooms, which is detailed in the Health and Safety Guide.
The guide also notes recommendations for virus screening for athletes and chorus and band members, as well as in areas with high community transmission levels or low vaccination coverage.
The CDC no longer recommends temperature checks or quarantines for vaccinated people who have been exposed to the virus, unless they have symptoms, according to the guide.
Read the full guide here.
"The point made by the State Education Department today was that this is a layered approach. It's multiple things using all those strategies together and consistently," said Dr. Nancy Nielsen, the Senior Associate Dean for Health Policy in the Jacobs School of Medicine.
She said she agrees with this layered approach, especially since children under 12 aren't yet eligible for the vaccine.
"All you have to do is look around the country and see that children's hospitals are becoming overwhelmed along with adult hospitals with the number of COVID infections," Dr. Nielsen said.
However, Niagara Falls City Schools Superintendent Mark Laurrie told 2 On Your Side the guidance doesn't change much as they get ready for the school year.
"It's a lot of what we knew. It's a lot of best practices. It's a lot of recommendations, but I wouldn't say there's anything earth-shattering in that document that says 'you must' or 'you're mandated to.' It still leaves a lot of discretion to school districts," Laurrie said.
He said it's important to remember, though, at this point, the situation is fluid.
"The good news is we're coming back to school, and we're coming back to school five days and we're coming back full in. I think where the patience needs to occur is whether we need to be wearing masks full time or not," Laurrie explained.
While Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul doesn't have the authority right now, she did offer her opinion on the mask issue in an interview on NBC.
"I believe that there will end up being mask mandates," Hochul said, adding that the decision will be collaborative with parents, teachers and district leaders.