Know the Facts about Coronavirus in our Community

Reopening Updates for Schools in New York

Schools in New York State have been given the green light to reopen this fall. Here are the recommended guidelines from New York State.

August 7, 2020

Young girl with backpack standing in school

Updated Thursday, August 13, 2020: The Rochester City School District (RCSD) has decided that all students K-12 will learn remotely for at least the first 10 weeks of the new school year. The head of the Rochester Teachers Association (RTA) Adam Urbanski said the RTA and the RCSD signed a joint memorandum of understanding on Wednesday evening.

“Teachers do want to return to at-school and in-person instruction but only when it is safe to do so,” Urbanski said in a statement. “We are happy that the District heeded the collective wisdom of parents and teachers on this critical issue. And we are especially grateful for your continued solidarity and for your unswerving advocacy for all our students.”

Gov. Cuomo Gives Green Light to Open

NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced that schools in New York State districts are allowed to reopen this fall. The governor said he based his decision on infection rates. "Every region is well below our COVID [19] infection limit, therefore all school districts are authorized to open," Gov. Cuomo tweeted. "If the infection rate spikes, the guidance will change accordingly."

Gov. Cuomo added that in schools, masks are required when social distancing is impossible, that "every student should plan to have one with them at all times" and "if a student does not have a mask, the school will be required to provide one." 

Gov. Cuomo based his decision on the seven-day rolling infection rate formula of the state's ten regions, and schools will be allowed to stay open if a region's daily positivity rate stays below five percent.

Schools have prepared for three scenarios: all in-person learning, all remote learning, and a hybrid option with students in school part-time. It is now up to each district to decide which option they will move forward with.

How to talk to kids about COVID-19

Guidelines for Reopening

New York State recently released suggested guidelines and recommendations for schools and districts. The 23-page document contains state-issued guidance and minimum standards that schools and districts can follow when creating and submitting their official plans to reopen, which were due to the state by July 31. 

The guidance covers a variety of areas that schools need to address, such as:

  • Masks & PPE
  • Social distancing
  • Restructuring space
  • Transportation
  • Food service
  • Aftercare and extracurriculars
  • Screening
  • Tracing
  • Cleaning and disinfecting 

Summary of Guidelines

Masks – The guidance strongly recommends face coverings at all times, except when students and teachers are eating or seated and social distancing. Face-covering breaks are recommended, and students who can’t tolerate face coverings for medical reasons can be exempt.

Social Distancing – Students and staff are advised to maintain social distancing unless physical barriers are used to separate people by a distance of 6 feet or more. Students who sing, play music, or take part in physical activity would need to stay 12 feet apart.

Space – Schools are being asked to reconfigure physical space such as chairs and tables and to consider using multiple locations and outdoor areas to create as much space as possible for in-person instruction. Bathrooms and common areas also need to be reconfigured.

Screening – Anyone entering a school building must have their temperature taken. If the temperature is above 100 degrees, the person will be denied entry. If someone already in the building has a temperature above 100 degrees, they must be isolated before being sent home. Staff should be screened daily, and students periodically, and it’s recommended that screening be done at home before entering a building.

The full guiding principles created by the New York State Department of Health can be read here.

CDC Reopening Guidelines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidance for schools reopening in the fall with three sets of recommendations for communities with the following levels of virus spread:

  • No virus spread
  • Minimal-to-moderate transmission
  • Substantial spread

If there is no transmission in a community, the CDC suggests schools put a plan in place that includes:

  • Teaching best hygiene practices, like hand-washing
  • Monitoring absenteeism that could indicate a positive case
  • Cancelling gatherings such as sporting events
  • Requiring sick staff members and students to stay home

If there is some transmission in a community, the CDC’s suggested plan includes the above recommendations, and adds:

  • Desks should be all facing the same direction and spaced apart
  • Cancel field trips and assemblies
  • Modify or cancel classes where students are in close contact, like choir, or P.E.
  • Stagger the release of students from classes
  • Have students eat meals in the classroom, not a dining hall
  • Limit non-essential visitors

If there is substantial transmission, the CDC suggests schools consider closing for longer than two weeks and that “implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs of each community."

The guidelines state that any school with an infected student or staff member must close for two to five days and work with local health officials to determine whether to stay closed for longer. While closed, education should continue through social distance learning.

In addition to the above recommendations, the CDC said all schools should also consider having physical barriers, students and staff should wear face coverings as feasible, sharing equipment and games should be avoided or cleaned after each use, younger students should remain in one classroom with the same teacher all day, and more.

Read the full guidelines from the CDC

Should Schools Reopen?

The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that public school districts should prioritize full-time, in-person classes for grades K-5 and students with special needs this fall. The guidance adds to the recommendations and plans for a safe return to school already proposed by the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics,  and a majority of U.S. state departments of education and health.

In its latest report, the academy states that “opening schools will benefit families beyond providing education, including by supplying child care, school services, meals, and other family supports. Without in-person instruction, schools risk children falling behind academically and exacerbating educational inequities.”

A recent study from South Korea suggests if schools reopen, children of all ages will spread the virus. The study analyzed more than 5,000 COVID-19 patients in South Korea and found that children younger than 10 transmit the virus to others half as often as adults do, but children between 10 and 19 can spread the virus as well as adults do. The study's authors conclude that the number of new infections started by children may rise when schools reopen, and young children may show higher attack rates when schools reopen, contributing to community transmission of COVID-19.

Read the study 

The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends schools and districts take the following precautions to protect staff and students:

  • Provide surgical masks for all teachers and staff
  • All students and staff should wear face masks
  • Make hand washing stations or hand sanitizer available for all people who enter school buildings, minimize contact with shared surfaces, and increase regular surface cleaning
  • Limit large gatherings of students
  • Reorganize classrooms to enable physical distancing
  • Prioritize cleaning, ventilation, and air filtration

This article will be updated as more information becomes available.

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