New York state doesn’t plan to issue any reopening guidance for schools

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — New York state does not plan to issue any COVID-19 reopening guidance for schools ahead of the 2021-22 school year, the president of the Monroe County Council of School Superintendents confirmed Thursday to News10NBC.

Bo Wright, the president of the Monroe County Council of School Superintendents and the superintendent of the Rush-Henrietta Central School District, issued the following statement:

"The Monroe County Council of Superintendents has confirmed that the state does not intend to issue guidance regarding reopening of schools in September. For months, we have asked New York to provide guidance as soon as possible. The announcement that there will be no direction at all from the state comes as a complete surprise. Now, with only four weeks left before the first day of school, districts will continue the conversation about how best to approach reopening. This will take some time, as each district has a unique set of circumstances regarding their student population, available space and resources, busing, and more. Local districts remain committed to reopening in-person five days a week, and will share their plans with families and staff as soon as possible."

New York State Department of Health (DOH) Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker issued a statement, recommending schools follow guidance from the CDC and local health departments.

"With the end of the state disaster emergency on June 25, 2021, school districts are reestablished as the controlling entity for schools," Zucker said. "Schools and school districts should develop plans to open in-person in the fall as safely as possible, and I recommend following guidance from the CDC and local health departments."

The New York State Education Department Thursday issued a statement calling for the DOH to release health guidance:

"Notwithstanding the position of the Executive Chamber that the Department of Health (DOH) will not be releasing guidance to assist schools with welcoming students back to safe and healthy learning environments in September, Commissioner of Education Betty A. Rosa has sent a letter asking Commissioner Howard Zucker to consider DOH’s statutory responsibilities as the state agency devoted to protecting the public health.

The Public Health Law provides that the Department of Health is charged with exercising control over and supervising the abatement of nuisances affecting or likely to affect public health as well as supervising and advising any local unit of government and the public health officials thereof within the state in the performance of their official duties. Currently, there is no greater nuisance affecting public health and safety than COVID-19. There is an urgent need for timely advice and supervision flowing from the State Department of Health to local and school officials as they navigate these uncertain times.

The circumstances enveloping the Executive Chamber this week should not prevent the Department of Health from the execution of its responsibilities to the public, as has been promised by the Governor’s office for months."

Earlier this week, News10NBC spoke with Wright, who said all districts are keeping busy and are focused on the fall semester.

“We have a moral obligation to do that, and I know I speak for every superintendent in the county when I say that all of us are committed to, whatever the circumstances are, that kids have the opportunity to come back to school for five days a week in-person instruction,” Wright said Tuesday. “Do I think there may be some challenges to that? Yeah, I do.”

A spokesperson from the New York State Department of Health released a statement Tuesday, indicating the state would provide reopening guidelines for the upcoming school year.

"We must get a handle on the Delta variant so kids can get back to school in the most normal way possible. This latest announcement from the CDC reinforces the fact that public health metrics are constantly changing, and it is difficult to predict what will be most effective for schools this far in advance. New York State continues to review the new CDC guidance and daily data outcomes, communicate with health and education stakeholders across the State and will ultimately make our recommendations for the fall based on what is in the best interest of public health."

Assemblyman Josh Jensen (R, C, I-Greece), on the other hand, released a statement in favor of the decision:

“Local school leaders know their students, school environment and communities’ best —not Albany officials. We must trust parents, not the state’s executive branch, as they have their children’s interests in mind. Today’s announcement is welcome news that will allow for parents to have their voices heard on what’s best for their children in school.

“Our teachers, children and parents have been through enough this past year. It’s about time we leave guidance up to them and minimize the confusion over ever-changing state guidelines.”

Monroe County Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Michael Mendoza told News10NBC earlier this week that local health officials were waiting to hear from the state to see what they can do at a county level when it comes to masking requirements in schools.