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Answer on COVID-19 school closures expected Friday

Answer on COVID-19 school closures expected Friday

State cancels August Regents exams
Answer on COVID-19 school closures expected Friday
Photographer: Shutterstock

Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised clarity on statewide school closures by the end of the week: That means Friday he said during a press briefing Thursday.

Cuomo's latest executive order closes schools through May 15, but he has suggested he will offer clarity Friday on whether schools will reopen at all this year and whether school districts will be able to bring students to school over the summer to make up missed instruction.

Meanwhile, the state Education Department on Wednesday announced plans to establish a statewide task force “in the coming weeks.” The panel of superintendents, principals, teachers, parents, schools board members and others would be charged with guiding a reopening of schools – whenever that may be.

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“Despite the challenges we are all facing every day, it is time we begin to look at how we can successfully and appropriately reopen our schools,” Chancellor Betty Rosa and Interim Commissioner Shannon Tahoe said in a joint statement.

District leaders are also hoping the state soon provides guidance on holding school elections this spring. Under the governor's latest order, annual budget and school board votes have been delayed into June. But there has not been a definitive date set for the elections or guidance on how districts will be expected to run those elections.

And even if districts knew when to schedule budget votes, they are still waiting for more detailed budget figures after state officials review state finances and potentially institute further reductions in aid this month. Many districts are holding off on finalizing budgets until they get word on whether to plan for more cuts than some districts have already outlined.

Districts are also starting to consider various options for graduation ceremonies – be it virtual or in a limited in-person capacity – and working through BOCES to begin developing protocols for a return to school that could still require social distancing and other precautions.

Cuomo has cautioned that a return to school will be a complex undertaking but has not detailed what he thinks schools must do to limit the risk of the virus spreading.

“If we do this right, it's a science,” Cuomo said during his Thursday press briefing. “Don't reopen in a way that increases spread of the virus.”

State education officials on Thursday also canceled Regents exams scheduled for Augusts. They had already canceled testing scheduled throughout the spring.

“There is much uncertainty as to when regular in-school attendance and instruction will be able to resume throughout the state and whether students will be adequately prepared to take Regents examinations,” department officials wrote in a letter sent to district and school leaders Thursday. “It is most important that during time of closure, educators be able to continue to focus their efforts toward local school and community needs and not have to be concerned about preparing students for state assessments.”

State officials in early April canceled the June Regents exams and outlined exemptions for students who need to pass Regents exams to meet graduation requirements. Students who were planning to take a Regents exams this spring or summer can meet the testing requirement by passing the course.  

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