School districts across the state will continue to have some flexibility in filling staff shortages and using remote instruction in the event of weather emergencies after the Board of Regents on Monday extended a handful of COVID-19-related regulations.
State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa also indicated state education and health officials are working to interpret recent federal guidance that dropped earlier student mask requirements. She said officials planned to issue updated state guidance this summer.
The Regents returned to Albany on Monday for the board’s first in-person meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic forced statewide school and office closures nearly 18 months ago. The board met in public session for less than two hours before convening in a closed meeting for two days of scheduled training.
During the public portion of the meeting, the board extended numerous emergency regulations that offered school districts flexibility around staffing, snow days and other requirements during the pandemic. Some board members and state officials noted that while the governor’s formal state of emergency had expired, many of the challenges created or exacerbated by the pandemic remained.
The board approved a series of emergency measures to continue through next year, including allowing teachers to teach up to 10 classroom hours a week in an area outside of their certification and allowing some substitute teachers to teach more than 40 days during the school year.
The regulatory flexibility aims to ease the challenges districts across the state face in filling vacancies ahead of the upcoming school year. The state faced an educator shortage in particular areas prior to the pandemic, an issue that was only exacerbated during the pandemic, officials said.
“We are hearing that we have got similar challenges related to staffing and (teacher) shortage areas,” said Kimberly Wilkins, deputy commissioner for instructional support.
The board also extended a requirement that superintendents report the use of remote schooling in the event of weather or other emergencies, enabling at least one more year of a so-called “pilot” that allows districts to shift to virtual instruction instead of closing school due to weather.
State officials, though, suggested Monday’s approval could be the last round of COVID-19 related emergency regulations. The board adopted and updated scores of emergency regulations throughout the pandemic, suspending certain graduation and school accountability requirements among other actions.
Board members applauded the Education Department’s effort to offer continued flexibility for districts at the outset of the new school year instead of waiting for issues to arise down the road.
“We cannot assume the effects or ramifications of COVID are just going to disappear, it’s going to take time,” Regent Kathleen Cashin said during the meeting. “So I love the fact that we are so proactive and not waiting for a crisis and then after the fact trying to fix a crisis.”
Rosa, the education commissioner, in an interview after the public meeting, said the Education Department was currently in discussion with the state Department of Health about federal guidelines issued last week by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control that said vaccinated students and teachers do not need to wear masks in school buildings. The CDC update said unvaccinated individuals, including young students not yet eligible for the vaccine, should still wear masks.
She said no decision had been made about New York’s school-based masking guidelines but that she expected an update sometime this summer.