In what may be a sign of things to come as the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo circles the drain, the state Health Department on Thursday issued its long-awaited guidance for school districts on how to deal with the covid resurgence.
That guidance to local school districts: You’re on your own.
Using the flimsy excuse that New York is no longer under a state of emergency, state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker announced that rather than offer guidance on mask-wearing, vaccinations, social distancing and remote learning, the Health Department instead recommends districts follow federal CDC guidance and the guidance of local health departments.
Thanks for that. We could have figured that out for ourselves.
We’re not talking about imposing mandates here. The governor’s office no longer has that power.
But how exactly does the suspension of the covid state of emergency preclude the Health Department from offering guidance and assistance for school districts on how to proceed as the delta variant of the coronavirus threatens to disrupt the upcoming school year?
In an editorial a couple of weeks ago, we urged school districts begging for some guidance from Albany to move ahead with operational plans that considered a variety of contingencies.
Districts have been through this covid thing before, so we felt they shouldn’t wait to get started on some sort of planning for the year.
Our encouraging of districts to initiate their own plans in the immediate absence of state guidance was just to make sure they gave themselves enough time to implement any procedures and regulations the state might issue in the future.
It wasn’t designed to serve as a substitute for state guidance.
But now it is.
The announcement Thursday represents an irresponsible abdication of the Health Department’s responsibility to protect the citizens of the state, particularly children and school staff.
Whether or not one agrees with how the state has handled the covid crisis in the past (and there is certainly plenty of room for criticism), there is value to having state agencies help local governments and school districts manage such a crisis.
State agencies have resources, expertise and access to information that’s far more extensive than any local entity can access.
In addition, a state recommendation carries far more weight, and can have a much greater impact, than any edict that comes from a local agency.
For instance, if the state strongly pushed for all teachers to be vaccinated, it might give districts more leverage when trying to initiate their own safety policies.
Same thing with requiring students and staff to wear masks, as well as initiating social distancing and remote learning, and setting limits on class sizes and sports team activity.
A state recommendation also might help justify and secure more funding to help districts manage the next wave of the crisis. Without that backup, they can only rely on their collective clout and that of their union representatives and associations.
State guidance also would help ensure consistency and a unified message to parents, students, school personnel and the general public as to how the districts should manage the crisis.
But instead, the Health Department just dumped it all on local school districts without warning, and will let whatever happens happen.
Is this abdication of responsibility a sign of things to come as the governor faces increasing pressure to resign and as he becomes more isolated, more ineffective and less able to manage the issues facing the state?
What other guidance will go by the wayside as the executive and legislative leadership of the state direct their attention to Cuomo and his issues rather than matters directly affecting the lives of New Yorkers?
Let’s hope this is not a sign of things to come.
But based on this, New Yorkers have every reason to fear that it might be.