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Schools Plan For Uncertain Fall Semester Given Changing COVID Metrics

WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

The Delta variant-driven resurgence of the coronavirus and changing guidelines have thrown New York’s school districts a curveball as they prepare to welcome students in September.

Just a month away resuming in-classroom learning, Albany City School District Superintendent Kaweeda Adams says she's keeping a watchful eye on the COVID stats.

"We're looking at the county information with regard to the COVID-19 cases, and we are seeing an uptick in those numbers. We are seeing that the Delta variant is becoming very significant. And we want to make sure that we are cognizant of all of the guidance that is coming out with regard to our schools. Our goal continues to be that we would like to have all of our students in person for the ‘21-22 school year."

Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday urged schools to require mandatory vaccines for employees.

But the New York state Education Department is calling for more action from the state health department on school reopening plans. Education Commissioner Betty Rosa has sent a letter to Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, asking him to consider DOH’s public health responsibilities after Zucker said earlier Thursday that school districts should develop their own reopening plans for in-person classes this fall. Zucker cited the ending of the state’s disaster emergency in June and recommends districts follow guidance from the CDC and local health departments. Rosa says there is an urgent need for advice and supervision from DOH to school officials. In a reference to the sexual harassment scandal involving Governor Cuomo, Rosa says the circumstances “enveloping the executive chamber” should not prevent DOH from executing its responsibilities.

Sullivan County Public Health Director Nancy McGraw says the issue of mandating vaccines has always been a controversial one.   "It's not really a mandate. It's either you choose to get vaccinated or you choose to get tested. If you work in a certain facility that's high risk, and you're putting others at risk, especially if you have hands on patient care, or a lot of interaction with the public and that's to keep the public safe. And I think that policies need to be a little bit aggressive as we're seeing these spikes in terms of transmission of virus because we certainly don't want to go back to where we were before. We've been dealing with this for 16, 17 months now."

Back in Albany, Adams says the district will continue temperature screening and is expecting students, teachers and staff to mask up whether or not they've been vaccinated, and face coverings will continue to be optional for adults and students outdoors at playgrounds.

"We're also looking at hand hygiene and make sure that we are continuing to wash our hands and those sorts of things. We just want to make sure that we are very vigilant with regard to the protocols that are in place. As a district, we do have our vaccination site. And we are encouraging our families to make sure that children 12 and over is they are able to get the vaccination for COVID-19 as well as looking at the regular immunizations for students entering school."

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.
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