ALBANY, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — A spokesperson for Governor Andrew Cuomo confirms to Nexstar contributor WSYR that neither his office nor the New York State Department of Health will issue any kind of guidance for the reopening of schools next month.

The spokesperson blames the COVID-19 state of emergency having been rescinded.

“With the end of the state disaster emergency on June 25, 2021, school districts are reestablished as the controlling entity for schools,” New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker says. “Schools and school districts should develop plans to open in-person in the fall as safely as possible, and I recommend following guidance from the CDC and local health departments.”

Here is a statement the Erie County Department of Health shared with local school leaders:

“Our department has just learned, as you surely have heard, that NYS has confirmed that it will not be issuing K-12 school COVID-19 guidance before the start of the school year. We had been operating with the assumption that this guidance was forthcoming from NYSDOH.

Given this news, our office of epidemiology and school team are reviewing existing school guidance from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with lessons that our department has learned throughout this pandemic. We understand the extreme time constraints under which you and your colleagues are working, and we will share our next steps with this group as soon as we can.”

Erie County Department of Health

President of the Erie-Niagara Superintendents Association, Michael Cornell, said he expects districts to remain in control of their own plans.

“The planning in school districts has continued since the spring and every school district has been doing its own planning and I expect that will continue,” Cornell said. “I have no expectation the county is going to approve our plans.”

Cornell said he’s waiting to make a decision about masks but he’s planning for three feet of distance.

Niagara Falls superintendent Mark Laurrie said the state couldn’t have made a better decision when it comes to school guidance in the fall. He said it will feel good to be able to make their own decisions.

Laurrie said he already knows what he’s going to recommend to the Board of Education for fall reopening.

“We’ve got a proven track record of 1,500 students in summer for 20-25 days and what worked well was that masks were strongly recommended but not mandatory,” he said.

He said he doesn’t plan to mandate distancing but will ask staff to make their “best effort” to keep kids three feet apart.

Meanwhile, state commissioner of education Betty Rosa sent a letter to Dr. Zucker asking him to reconsider the state’s decision to back off. She said in a statement:

“Notwithstanding the position of the Executive Chamber that the Department of Health (DOH) will not be releasing guidance to assist schools with welcoming students back to safe and healthy learning environments in September, Commissioner of Education Betty A. Rosa has sent a letter asking Commissioner Howard Zucker to consider DOH’s statutory responsibilities as the state agency devoted to protecting the public health.

The Public Health Law provides that the Department of Health is charged with exercising control over and supervising the abatement of nuisances affecting or likely to affect public health as well as supervising and advising any local unit of government and the public health officials thereof within the state in the performance of their official duties.  Currently, there is no greater nuisance affecting public health and safety than COVID-19. There is an urgent need for timely advice and supervision flowing from the State Department of Health to local and school officials as they navigate these uncertain times.

The circumstances enveloping the Executive Chamber this week should not prevent the Department of Health from the execution of its responsibilities to the public, as has been promised by the Governor’s office for months.”

State Education Department

Both superintendents said all students will be in school five days a week and that’s a huge win.

“It feels like we’ve reached where we’ve hit the light at the end of the tunnel it’s what kids need. They need to be in school, they need to be cheerleading, they need to be playing football, they need to be golfing, they need to be preparing for a homecoming celebration, but it doesn’t mean we throw all the other good things we’ve learned out the window,” said Laurrie.

He said they’ll continue to keep an eye on the numbers and the Delta variant and they will pivot as needed.

The Williamsville Central School District also released this statement on the matter:

“The District was informed last night that the New York State Department of Health will not be providing health and safety guidance for schools operating during the COVID-19 pandemic for the 2021-2022 academic year. We will continue to plan and prepare for the upcoming school year using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools and the American Academy of Pediatrics COVID-19 Guidance for Safe Schools as a basis for creating an educational environment that is as healthy and safe as possible for all of our students and faculty and staff.”

Williamsville Central School District

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