Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state now has a low enough COVID-19 transmission level to resume face-to-face classes
In a televised nationwide press conference, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo confirmed that in communities where the coronavirus positive rate is less than 5 percent, school districts will be allowed to start the 2020-2021 school year (scheduled to begin in early September) with face-to-face classes. This 5 percent is not a random number, but rather the recommendation made by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the reopening of establishments where many people congregate.
“Schools can open. We have the best infection rate in the country. If there’s a state ready to reopen, that’s us, ”Cuomo said proudly. In his statement he left behind the dark weeks lived by his state, which two months ago had the worst death rate in the entire country and practically the only state that saw its hospital system collapse.
New York has 700 school districts and ultimately the final decision rests with the leaders of each of those local districts. But Cuomo’s announcement was fundamental because local authorities can always be tougher, deciding not to open, but they can never have less strict rules than the state. This power of the state over the municipalities has confronted Cuomo in recent days with very powerful mayors like Bill de Blasio, at the helm of New York City. De Blasio announced last week that his city was ready to reopen face-to-face classes given that the positive rate there today is around 1 percent of the population. Cuomo’s office made it clear to him that this was not a decision that he could make without first consulting with the governor.
Cuomo is in a moment of triumph after his state went from being the global epicenter of COVID-19 to being one of the better-off states in the entire country. But the debate about reopening schools is a difficult subject for him. The numbers go along with it, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate that the powerful teachers union supports his decision. Keeping schools closed means that, in New York City alone, close to a million children would be left in fragile learning conditions. But many teachers still fear going back to the classroom.
“I have had many doubts. I received countless calls from parents and teachers, each expressing concern. If the teachers don’t come back, then we can’t open the schools. If parents don’t send their children to class, then there is no reopening possible, ”Cuomo said of the decision process.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, has been a Cuomo ally for years. However, in recent statements to the press, he has not ruled out the possibility of the union taking legal action against New York City and against the state.
“Nobody wants to get into a legal battle with the teachers. Everyone should feel safe. If they don’t feel safe, they can’t teach, ”Cuomo added this Friday when asked about the alleged demand at the door.
Now each district must design and present its safe back-to-school plan to the state. They should include controls for teachers and students, new cleaning protocols and a concrete plan of action in the event that someone in the community tests positive for COVID-19. In New York City, classes are scheduled to begin on September 10.