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Closing schools is the right call

The Millerton News Editorial

Proving yet again both his wisdom and his leadership, Governor Andrew Cuomo made the right call to keep all New York K-12 schools and college facilities closed for the remainder of the academic year to prevent further spread of the coronavirus, on Friday, May 1. The long-awaited announcement came after the governor shut down schools and non-essential businesses statewide, with his New York State on PAUSE Executive Order this April; it expires May 15.

When he closed schools across New York, Cuomo also waived the 180-day state requirement that schools must provide 180 days of teaching. At the time he had schools switch to distance learning programs and offer both meal delivery services and child care options for essential workers. Drastic? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely!

As he explained last week, “Schools, obviously by definition, have higher density. They have transportation issues, kids getting on buses. We did not have the protection measures to put in place. You have 700 public school districts, 4,800 schools in this state, and then you have 1,800 private schools, 89 SUNY and CUNY campuses, and 100 private campuses for a total of 4.2 million students.”

The governor has to take care of each and every one of those 4.2 million students — keeping them safe and healthy — protecting them from catching and potentially spreading this deadly virus.

Calling decisions on the education system “critically important,” Cuomo asked, “How do you operate a school that socially distances with masks, without gatherings, with a public transportation system that has a lower number of students on it? How would you get that plan up and running? We do not think it is possible to do that in a way that would keep our children, students and educators safe.”

That is the crux of why he made the decision he made — to protect students and school staff who could potentially be exposed to ill classmates and colleagues in close physical quarters in which it would be near impossible to social distance. Whether the state can solve how to keep everyone safe, whether in the classroom, in the cafeteria or on the school bus, in time for summer school is another question, one which Cuomo hopes to answer by the end of the month.

Describing the governor’s actions as “responsible,” the New York State School Boards Association offered its opinion following his decision.

“There is nothing normal about the times we live in. With more than 300,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, New York state has become the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic. It would not be safe to open schools now. Too many issues remain unresolved, including how we can safely transport students to and from school, create classroom environments that allow for safe distances between students and put in place other public health safeguards that will protect our school communities.”

By dealing with the education system in much the same way he’s been dealing with the business sector, the governor has been pragmatic, responsible, logical and systematic. He’s asked schools to develop plans that take into account COVID-19-era social distancing guidelines for the re-opening of schools in September (pending state approval).

“This has been a very difficult, difficult situation for everyone,” said Cuomo last week, “but when life knocks you on your rear, learn and grow, and we will collectively learn and grow. We are going to learn many difficult lessons from this situation. We are going to learn about public health threats that we never saw before, we never heard of, we never really anticipated, we never actualized.”

One thing we are learning about during this pandemic: Teaching students without a classroom is tough. But despite the difficulties of distance learning, teachers and administrators around the region are doing their best to keep some continuity in their students’ academic lives. They are getting creative, and we hope students are taking their studies seriously. This week in particular, which is Teacher Appreciation Week, we want to take a moment to recognize the challenges of distance learning, and to commend those working so hard to make virtual education a success.

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