Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday criticized scores of school districts across the state for not submitting school reopening plans – but many of those districts had submitted plans.
Cuomo, saying why a district would not submit a plan “is beyond me” and suggesting the districts maybe didn’t want to reopen, said districts had until Friday to provide reopening plans or they would not be allowed to open schools next month. His office later released a list of 107 school districts they said had not submitted reopening plans.
But the failure to submit plans appeared largely driven by confusion over the submission process rather than a failure to finish plans by a July 31 deadline.
The list of districts, which included Shenendehowa, Amsterdam, Canajoharie, Fort Plain and others in the area, caused immediate confusion and frustration as district officials said they had submitted plans and scrambled to understand why they made the list. The list appeared to include many districts that had posted reopening plans online and submitted plans to the state Education Department before a July 31 deadline but did not also submit the plans to the state Department of Health, as was required.
Some school leaders said they were frustrated as state officials and Cuomo called out districts publicly instead of contacting districts directly to clear up submission problems.
Broadalbin-Perth district officials, for example, said they submitted their plan to the Education Department by the July 31 deadline but were unaware they had to use a separate form to also submit the plan to the Department of Health. The district submitted its plan to the Department of Health on Monday.
“It was a simple oversight,” Broadalbin-Perth Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson said in a statement. “I’m disappointed that, rather than contact school districts directly to let them know there was a separate form, the Department of Health instead chose to call out the districts publicly.”
State guidelines did clearly state districts had to submit plans to both the state health and education departments, and confirmation emails from the Education Department included a reminder to also submit through the Department of Health.
Other districts appeared to have tried to submit the plan to both state agencies but instead submitted their plan using a portal meant for businesses. Shenendehowa school district officials, for instance, on Monday posted copies of the email confirmations they received after submitting plans, and Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi noted the confirmation was for the business reopening portal. Shenendehowa spokesperson Kelly DeFeciani said the district “used the exact links they sent us.”
The Greater Amsterdam School District was also included on the list, because they had failed to submit to the Department of Health, though they had posted a plan and submitted it to the Education Department by the July 31 deadline. District officials submitted the plan to health officials Monday.
“The portal is very confusing,” Amsterdam district spokesperson John Noetzel said. “We weren’t trying to not submit it.”
During a conference call with reporters Monday, Cuomo called out the 107 districts he said “didn’t submit plans to DOH or SED” and outlined the Friday deadline to provide those plans. Many of the districts on the governor’s list had submitted plans to SED or were one of around 80 districts granted an extension by the state education officials.
“For those 107 school districts, how you didn’t submit a plan is beyond me,” Cuomo said on the call with reporters. “Maybe they have just determined they don’t want to open, which is the only logical conclusion.”
Many of the districts quickly sought to tamp down any potential confusion among families, posting explanations of the confusion or indicating they went back to correct submission problems and that they did have reopening plans despite being included on the governor’s list.