BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — Students and teachers are just weeks away from stepping back into the classroom for a brand new school year, but there is still no official state guidance issued for their return.
However, the New York State Education (NYSED) commissioner says her department is also “anxious” to receive guidance to safely reopen schools this fall.
That’s welcome news for school leaders.
Commissioner Betty Rosa says her department is also feeling the "urgency and frustration” felt by school leaders as they wait for guidance for the upcoming school year.
Rosa issued a memo July 29 to school leaders across the state.
"The urgency and frustration you are feeling as September approaches is palpable and is shared by the Department. The overall goal for the 2021-2022 school year is to maximize in-person teaching and learning, be responsive to student needs, and keep students and staff healthy and safe. Be assured the Department is engaged in continuing efforts to help develop and secure guidance to advance that goal," the memo stated.
"Empathy for the field is rare in Albany,” remarked Michael Cornell, superintendent, Hamburg Central School District.
Cornell says the commissioner's support is very important as they await state guidance.
“The more they experience the sense of empathy for us — the more likely they are to strike the right balance between providing guidance that's timely and guidance that's overly prescriptive,” Cornell explained
NYSED Commissioner Rosa says for now schools need to follow CDC guidance until Governor Cuomo and the health department issue guidelines.
The latest CDC recommendation says masks should be worn in-school even by those who are fully vaccinated.
But Cornell, who also serves as president of the Erie Niagara Schools Superintendent Association, says students are attending in-person summer school without masks.
“There's hundreds of thousands of kids learning in classrooms across the state every single day without masks and without physical distancing and it's safe,” noted Cornell.
But Cornell says even if districts are forced to begin the school year wearing masks it might not continue for the whole school year.
“School districts need to know what the rules are going to be for the fall,” stated Robert Lowry, deputy director for Advocacy, Research & Communications, New York State Council of School Superintendents. “There is a lot of frustration.”
Lowry says school leaders need to know if there will be new social distancing guidelines this fall.
“I had a superintendent say to me ‘I need to decide whether to buy more desks’ — last year he didn't have all the students in school the same day, but before the pandemic — he had students sitting two to four to a table,” said Lowry.
Lowry noted school districts are two weeks behind from last year for receiving state guidance for the start of a new school year.
School leaders say most importantly the education commissioner is recognizing the need for students to be in school, five-days a week for in-person learning.
“The experts have not wavered from that. I think we all recognize the mistake we made by leaving the liquor stores about seven days a week, but limiting access to in person learning for students to two days a week or three days a week it's a terrible mistake,” Cornell noted. “Our priority has to be five-day a week, in-person learning for all kids — period.”
“I guess I’m optimistic that you know we will be able to do that. But I also think maybe if you accept that as a goal — you may have to accept there are certain trade offs and accommodations that you have to make to accomplish that goal,” replied Lowry.
School districts will no longer be required to provide a fully remote option for those who don't want to send their kids to school. But districts will still accommodate those who for health reasons can not be in the classroom.