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State talks schools reopening, Baldwin prepares

Cuomo rolls out guidelines, deadline for district plans

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In what has become a familiar setting because of the coronavirus pandemic, the New York State Board of Regents met virtually on July 13 to discuss the findings of a task force made up of parents, school officials, students and teachers that was convened in June to collect opinions on how to reopen schools.

The Board of Regents recommended that school districts create plans for in-person instruction, remote instruction and what is being called hybrid instruction, a mix of in-person and remote learning. The guidance was distributed to school districts on July 15, and their reopening plans must be submitted to the State Education Department by July 31.

“Since May, the Baldwin Union Free School District has been diligently working on a plan for reopening schools that will help ensure the safety of our students and staff, while also providing an effective learning environment,” Baldwin Schools Superintendent Dr. Shari Camhi said. “The district’s plan will be guided by what is best for our students, staff and the Baldwin community, in addition to final directives provided by the governor and New York State Education Department.”

Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa noted that the recommendations came after four virtual Board of Regents meetings were held last month. “Life has changed radically for New York’s students, parents and educators during the unprecedented Covid-19 emergency, and we have to provide flexibility to districts in our new normal,” Rosa said during the July 13 meeting. “Today the Board of Regents has adopted emergency regulations that afford essential flexibility for educators, students and professionals to address issues due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

To adhere to the state’s social distancing guidelines, school districts will have to adjust to holding some classes in larger spaces such as the cafeteria or gymnasium. SED Interim Commissioner Shannon Tahoe noted that each district must make different adjustments for this.

“As school districts think through how they will support social distancing throughout their buildings, they’ll have to consider whether the physical structure of the space as currently set up will put students and faculty at risk,” Tahoe said during the meeting. “To mitigate these risks, schools can use flexible scheduling or staggered dismissal times. But we realize that there is no one size fits all answer as each district has its own challenges to face with this.”

Also on July 13, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state formula for reopening schools. A region must be in Phase 4 of the state’s reopening protocols, and the daily average rate of infection must be 5 percent or lower over a 14-day period. Should there be a spike, a region with a seven-day average infection rate of 9 percent or higher cannot reopen schools.

“We will look at the data and make a decision based on science,” Cuomo said at a July 13 news conference. “We want to keep the children as safe as possible. We will not use the children as guinea pigs,” he added, referring to how some states reopened their economies, which resulted in severe spikes, especially in Arizona, Florida and Texas.

“By the beginning of August,” Camhi said, “after the governor announces the state’s decision on whether schools can reopen in the fall and our district’s plan is finalized, we will be able to share the most up-to-date plan with our community regarding how Baldwin schools will operate in the fall.”