As New York state school districts muddled their way through an academic year with pandemic restrictions, one of the more frustrating periods came in the early spring when it started to become clear that COVID-19 cases were declining.
State officials had information about decreasing infection rates, along with data that showed students who were able to attend in-person school were excellent at wearing masks and not spreading infections while in classes. The also had revised CDC guidance about distancing among masked students.
But for many weeks, despite the pleadings of school district leaders and families around the state, New York state refused to update their guidance. When they finally did, students in many districts had just a couple of months left for expanded in-person instruction.
It was a failure by state education and health officials, and it was one that should have left them determined not to repeat. But as the final days of July count down, school officials trying to plan for the 2021-22 academic year find themselves in an unpleasantly familiar situation.
They are waiting for the state to put out some guidance.
With students due to return in about six weeks, there’s no clear answers from the state about what should be done about mask-wearing, social distancing, screening, testing and contact tracing for COVID-19 and more.
“Districts have to make decisions and they also have to communicate with families so families understand what will be happening in schools,” said Robert N. Lowry Jr., deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.
School officials have been pleading for this guidance for a couple of weeks, but state officials only provide vague answers about their continual monitoring of conditions and federal recommendations.
It’s time to act. We urge our state representatives to get involved in this situation and call on the education and health departments to get some concrete guidelines out so districts can plan for the best possible educational experience for all students in the next school year.