Local school districts may be making decisions on masking, physical distancing, testing, vaccination requirements and other issues related to COVID-19, according to an advisory letter from a state school leaders’ group.
In a letter shared with Newsday, the New York State Council of School Superintendents told members the group was advised on Wednesday that neither Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office, nor the state Department of Health, will be issuing guidance to govern the reopening of schools in coming weeks.
Local school leaders have been waiting for weeks for a decision from the state regarding school reopenings on issues such as should students and staff wear masks, and will remote learning be offered as an option. The majority of Long Island schools open in less than a month.
The letter states that “as the COVID-19 state of emergency has been rescinded …,” decisions will be ” … left to local discretion, exercised by school district and county health officials.”
Phyllis Harrington, president of the Council of School Superintendents, said in a statement Thursday morning that districts have expected guidance from the state since the closing of schools in June.
“We are clearly disappointed that at this date guidance is not forthcoming. Local school boards and superintendents throughout the state will do what they always do: make decisions in the best interest of children and staff. However, given that this is a health issue, we continue to invite clear direction from county departments of health,” said Harrington, who is also superintendent of the Oceanside school district.
The governor’s office, the state Department of Health and state Education Department, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Roger Tilles, Long Island’s representative on the state Board of Regents, said Thursday he had not heard that update and was “hoping it was not true.” The state needs to issue guidance, he said.
“Our school superintendents have been waiting and waiting and talking about what kind of guidance are we going to get from the state,” Tilles said. “I don’t think they want to be subjected to the whims of who happens to be the loudest in their community. It is a health issue.”
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said in a news conference Thursday morning that school officials told her “the school districts are actually talking today among themselves about how to go forward. … They are all deciding the best way to protect their employees, their teachers, their students and their entire school communities.”
Curran said schools should decide for themselves the steps to take.
“I really do believe just as with businesses, I believe the school officials are best equipped to make these decisions for their communities, for their school communities, and I trust them to make good decisions,” she said.
Some local school districts — such as Commack and Middle Country — recently wrote the state asking for local control over issues such as indoor masking. A letter from Commack school leaders, dated July 22 and posted on the district’s website, asked Cuomo to allow optional mask wearing in schools.
“We believe it is time to restore local control to school boards, superintendents and parents,” the letter read.