NYSUT pushes safety measures to get kids back in school


ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)-The state continues to tackle the weighty task of getting millions of New Yorkers vaccinated against COVID-19. The number of doses administered grew from 1.7M at the beginning of February to 5.6M doses as of March 9.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released updated guidance for reopening schools and relaxed social distancing guidelines for people who are fully vaccinated. Hospitals are also easing some visitation restrictions.

In the midst of this progression, parents and students have been left in limbo by the state government and education officials regarding an official reopening of schools full-time for in-person learning- another step towards education normalcy for families.

After going to fully remote learning last March, most school districts in the Capital Region opted to begin the 2020-2021 school year using a hybrid learning model. Students at Rensselaer Park Elementary School in the Lansingburgh School District resumed in-person attendance at the end of February after spending the first half of the year learning remotely.

New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) released a 30-second video to bring attention to the safety measures needed to safely get kids back in the classroom. The $1M digital and television advertising campaign advocates for COVID-19 testing in schools, getting education professionals vaccinated, social distancing, mandatory mask-wearing, sanitization, and hygiene procedures.

“The best way for educators to teach and for students to learn is to be in person in the classroom, and we agree with parents and administrators that we need to get back to that for all students. To do it, we have to continue to prioritize the health and safety of our students, our educators and our school communities,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta.

NEWS10 contacted the New York State Education Department (NYSED) for comment on the new NYSUT ad but has yet to hear back from a representative.

There is no mandate for COVID-19 testing within the CDC’s school guidance. The CDC does recommend testing for any school community member suspected of having COVID-19. They also said screening testing could be used “to complement mitigation strategies in schools.”

Shortly after the CDC released its new school guidelines, NEWS10 also reached out to NYSED for comment. An NYSED representative said NEWS10 should contact the NYS Department of Health (DOH). NYSED did tell NEWS10 that they are working on updated guidance for the 2021-2022 school year with their partners.

“We continue to monitor this situation and will adjust our guidance when facts and data warrant changes. This strategy has proven effective, evidenced by low rates of transmission in schools compared to the community,” the DOH said.

For months NYSED has been focusing on how to bridge the digital gap, in order to make sure every student has access to the internet. They have held a series of digital equity summits and have been working with organizations as well as digital professionals to come up with solutions.

Little more than 6% of all students in the state do not have access to the internet, based on a Fall 2020 Digital Equity Report released by NYSED. This is primarily due to cost and affects students in New York City, the big four cities (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers), along with those in rural areas.

Education professionals, educators, digital professionals, and organizations discussed possible solutions that would allow all students in the state to be connected to the internet, in NYSED’s most recent summit on March 8.

They said bridging the digital gap would require the local, state, and federal governments all coming together. They also discussed how to secure long-term funding for school-provided internet service, the use of refurbished devices, and working with communities to come up with creative solutions.

“Let us not create, as we have done in the past winners and losers, rather all winners in a digital inclusive approach. We know that we can do that work. Let us lead by leading with a focus on the common good,” said Commissioner Betty Rosa.

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