Questar III BOCES Superintendent Gladys Cruz, Ph.D., sent a letter on Monday to the New York State Department of Health, advocating for a “partnership in charting a path forward” for school districts as it relates to COVID-19. East Greenbush CSD Superintendent Jeff Simons was one of several superintendents who signed the letter.
The letter was sent to Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett on behalf of Questar’s component school districts, which includes the East Greenbush Central School District.
A copy of the letter was also sent to New York State Commissioner of Education Dr. Betty Rosa, the New York State Education Department Senior Deputy Commissioner, the New York State Board of Regents Chancellor and Vice Chancellor, county health departments and members of the New York State Assembly and Senate.
“Since March 2020, our students, staff, and families have admirably navigated changing conditions and state guidance on a weekly, if not daily, basis,” Dr. Cruz wrote.
“While it is difficult to make predictions during a public health emergency, it is easy to see the stress and anxiety many are feeling due to the pandemic and changing conditions,” she continued. “Most recently, we saw the stress and confusion associated with the Nassau Supreme Court ruling and subsequent stay that keeps the mask mandate through early March.”
In the letter, Dr. Cruz recommended four steps the state could take that would help schools transition away from “COVID distractions and restrictions” and back to education.
The key points include:
- Work with and communicate with superintendents prior to the release of any new guidance changes to the public. This will enable our leaders to effectively review and plan for changes in partnership with county health departments – and then communicate those changes to the public. We also ask the state to identify the changes in guidance by highlighting the updates or changes in its memos or charts.
- Create and monitor benchmarks to make this more manageable and understandable. For example, what is the guidance for school mask requirements and when and how might these evolve based on transmission levels or vaccination rates? These metrics should show what will happen if conditions improve or worsen.
- Continue to provide a steady supply of at home test kits and those associated with surveillance testing. The availability of test kits is a welcome change. It is a mitigation strategy that is helping us to keep positive cases out of our buildings.
- Provide statewide consistency. We ask for consistency across the state, especially when we have school districts and BOCES involving multiple counties and health departments that may have differing approaches.
Mr. Simons supported the views expressed in the letter and hopes these requests are granted so school districts can move beyond the pandemic and focus all resources on carrying out their missions of educating children.
“Our students, families and employees need to understand our state’s vision for returning to the normalcy of teaching and learning in our public school classrooms,” he said. “Student engagement and effective teaching and instruction remains at the forefront within every classroom in the East Greenbush Central School District despite the challenges related to COVID-19.”
“Cases are coming down and there is a sense that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Mr. Simons continued. “With the support of our Board of Education, our students, our families, our administrators, and teachers and staff have done a remarkable job remaining open for in-person learning this year. Our stakeholders, however, would benefit from a clearer picture of where schools are headed regarding state requirements and the schools’ responsibilities for the management of COVID protocols.”