Cuomo Leaves Parents Waiting to Last Day on School Decision

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Governor Andrew Cuomo will make a last-minute decision on whether New York City’s schools will reopen for in-person classes this fall amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most major districts across the U.S. will begin the academic year virtually, but Cuomo has said he would decide on local districts’ plans in the first week of August. That leaves only Friday, if he sticks to his self-imposed time line. Meanwhile, pressure is mounting from parents and businesses.

“We will have a threshold decision in terms of the viral rate spread region by region,” Cuomo told reporters Thursday. “It’s not just a question of the state or the local school district pronouncing the schools will be open,” he added. “The parents are going to make the decision on a practical level.”

The governor’s comments injected an element of uncertainty into whether the New York City system, the nation’s largest, will go forward with its plan for a blend of classroom and online instruction. Parent groups and the union representing the city’s 75,000 teachers have raised questions about the plan, and have asked Cuomo to reject it until their concerns are met.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has said the system is ready to reopen next month for its 1.1 million students after more than eight weeks in which the city’s transmission rate has held below 3%. His administration has planned a schedule in which students would attend school one to three days a week. If a student or teacher contracts the virus, the classroom would be temporarily closed, and other cases could result in a school-wide shutdown. Testing and contact-tracing programs would be in force throughout, the mayor has vowed.

“We are trying to maximize in-person learning for the good of our kids, because we know it makes a world of difference,” de Blasio said this week. “Online is a tool we will use when we need to use it, but it’s inherently imperfect.”

Frantic Families

At the Alliance for Quality Education, a parents advocacy group, Executive Director Jasmine Gripper criticized the de Blasio administration’s plan, saying the city should have revamped its education system to create alternative learning sites — libraries, recreation centers, museums — maximizing its ability to achieve safe distancing among students.

She said the blended model will force educators, students and parents to constantly juggle schedules, with different cohorts attending on varying days, increasing the risk of viral spread and causing logistical problems for working parents.

“From what we’ve heard from parents, they lean toward a shut down,” Gripper said. “Many families are really skeptical about the Department of Education’s ability to pull this off well. We are worried about a plan that requires students and teachers to commute large distances to school on public transit. The city should have assigned students to locations within walking distance of their homes for instruction.”

Department of Education spokeswoman Miranda Barbot said the city is doing everything possible to protect families. “We have a stricter threshold for reopening than the state, and will take swift and decisive action in the event there is a positive case in the building,” she said.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew has said he’s not ready to sign on to the program until he’s sure that teachers and students will be tested as needed and have adequate protective equipment supplies.

Cuomo’s Dilemma

Parents are weighing the predictability of at-home learning as opposed to reopening and then possibly shutting down again, said David Bloomfield, an education leadership professor atBrooklyn College and at the CUNY Graduate Center. Businesses, on the other hand, need workers, he said.

Other systems’ decisions to remain closed may make it more more difficult for Cuomo to make New York the exception, giving the governor a rationale to keep the city’s schools closed, Bloomfield said.

“Cuomo is in a bind,” he said. “Either way, it puts him in a situation where he’ll be criticized one way or the other.”

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