BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — New York education officials on Thursday released a COVID-19 reopening guide for school districts that were caught off guard when the state’s health commissioner said he would not issue safety recommendations.
The guide, meant to help districts develop their own plans, highlights recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including universal masking for students and staff regardless of whether they have received a COVID-19 vaccine, and the continuation of social distancing when possible.
“Reopening amidst a pandemic for the second consecutive year is truly a daunting task,” Education Commissioner Betty Rosa said in a statement. “Our hope is that this guide, coupled with the input of local health officials will help the state’s education community as they prepare for September.”
Numerous district leaders said they had been waiting for guidance from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration to finalize reopening plans, only to be told Aug. 5 they should proceed on their own.
“With the end of the state disaster emergency on June 25, 2021, school districts are reestablished as the controlling entity for schools,” New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, recommending they follow guidance from the CDC and local health departments.
The statement, which came two days after the release of a damning report that found Cuomo had sexually harassed 11 women, drew a rebuke from the State Education Department, which said the turmoil “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.”
The guide released Thursday refers districts to CDC recommendations that schools maintain at least 3 feet (about 1 meter) of physical distance between students within classrooms, and at least 6 feet (about 2 meters) between students or staff who are not fully vaccinated.
It also notes recommendations for virus screening for athletes and chorus and band members, as well as in areas with high community transmission levels or low vaccination coverage.
The CDC no longer recommends temperature checks or quarantines for vaccinated people who have been exposed to the virus, unless they have symptoms, according to the guide.