Cuomo, a Democrat who had held off on deciding for weeks, said the low COVID-19 infection rate in the state, along with a small number of new CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus cases and deaths, led to his choice.
The statewide infection rate was 1 percent as of Friday, with just five new deaths with COVID-19 reported.
“If anyone can open schools we can open schools,” Cuomo said in a conference call with reporters. “That’s true for every region in the state, period.”
New York City was the hardest-hit area in the nation by COVID-19, a disease caused by the CCP virus, and New York state has seen over 25,000 fatalities linked to the new malady, according to state health data, which doesn’t match with city data.
The transmission of the virus has slowed dramatically in recent weeks. The cause is unclear. State and city officials say it’s because harsh restrictions worked; some believe the population reached herd immunity because of how widely the virus spread.
Cuomo said in a separate statement that a rise in the infection rate will bring a change in state policy and that school districts are required to get plans cleared by state officials before reopening.
Districts must post plans for remote learning and testing and tracing online, set dates for three to five discussion sessions with parents and community members, and hold at least one discussion with teachers alone.
“In schools as elsewhere, masks are required when social distancing is impossible. Every student should plan to have one with them at all times. If a student does not have a mask, the school will be required to provide one,” he said.
Students do not have to go back to school in-person and districts are not required to reopen for in-person instruction, the governor told reporters in the call.
Statewide policy for issues like remote learning wouldn’t make sense, Cuomo argued, because circumstances are different in each district.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat who regularly clashes with Cuomo, said last month that students in the city would go to school for two or three days a week and learn virtually on the other days, in a bid to prevent a spike in the transmission of the virus.
“The approach we will use is blended learning. And blended learning simply means that at some points in the week, you are learning in-person in the classroom, at other points of the week, you’re learning remotely,” he told reporters.
In a press conference on July 31, the mayor said schools wouldn’t be allowed to reopen unless the infection rate was below three percent.
Earlier this week, two teachers’ unions insisted state officials issue clear protocols for how and when districts must close their buildings and how they plan on conducting contact tracing and quarantines of positive cases.
“The unions believe that if districts are to move forward with reopening their school buildings, they must err on the side of caution at all times. Specifically, in the event of a positive COVID-19 case, the unions are calling for the immediate closure of that school building and a return to remote learning for 14 days before revisiting whether it is safe for the building to reopen,” the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) said in a joint statement.
In an emailed statement to The Epoch Times, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said, “As Governor Cuomo noted, parents and teachers must be confident that schools are safe before they can reopen. In New York City that is still an open question.”
NYSUT President Andy Pallotta alleged that many parents and educators aren’t confident in their districts’ reopening plans, but praised the decision to hold meetings with parents and teachers.
“We’re thankful the governor agrees that forcing people back into the classroom when they feel their health is threatened is not what should happen,” he said. “So if districts need to phase in the reopening of buildings, so be it. We must err on the side of caution. Period.”