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Schools Prepping For Fall Semester With Unclear Masking, Vaccination Guidance

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Last week, despite the threat of the Delta Variant and a rising number of coronavirus cases nationally, the New York State Department of Health announced it would not issue COVID-19 guidance for schools, leaving districts to develop their own strategies.

Across New York some 700 school districts are grappling with whether to require masks and any other public health measures. Hudson Schools Superintendent Dr. Maria Suttmeier:

"We're going to have a stakeholder meeting tomorrow evening. We'll have another one in the month of August. Also, now that we know that there is no guidance coming from the State Department of Health, as we found out late last week, to go over what our plan was last year and make any updates in accordance with the CDC guidance as well as the American Academy For Pediatrics. So we're going to be using those two guiding documents with CDC in the forefront."

The Albany City School District’s reopening plans for September are as follows: Returning students will be given five days of in-person instruction, while masks will be mandatory for all, regardless of vaccination status, and a three-foot social distancing mandate will be imposed. Superintendent Kaweeda Adams:

"Our families need to be very cognizant of the protocols that are in place. We want all of our students to come back to school in person so we ask that our families please follow the COVID guidelines. Wear masks, practice safe and healthy hygiene with regard to hand hygiene, washing hands, etc. We want to make sure that our students are healthy so that they can come back to school."

Albany has been categorized as having a “high” COVID-19 transmission rate, joining a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list that includes Saratoga, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Dutchess and Westchester Counties. Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan:

"You know, we have to figure out how we live with the fact that this virus is here, and we need to be encouraging vaccination."

North Colonie Superintendent of Schools Joseph Korr says the district is committed to in-person instruction for all students, five days a week.

"We as a district and we as a region, yet have not issued a final guidance document and made final decisions. But the reality is very clear. Right now the Delta variant really complicates matters and lacking official guidance from the New York State Department of Health other than the fact that we're urged to follow CDC guidance. You know, we essentially have to work collaboratively to do this."

Officials are advising parents, students and teachers to check their district and school websites frequently for any updates or changes to plans or policies.

Governor Andrew Cuomo encouraged districts to mandate vaccines for school employees including teachers, which Randi Weingarten of the American Federation for Teachers now supports. The New York State United Teachers said earlier this month it did not back a vaccine mandate.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.