Schools to state: Step up support

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo could have done more to provide support to help school reopening plans be successful following COVID-19 closures, says Camden school district Superintendent Dr. Ravo Root after Cuomo’s decision to allow the reopenings.

Meanwhile, Westmoreland district Superintendent Rocco Migliori expressed mixed feelings about Cuomo’s decision; he is pleased to be able to reopen but said some of Cuomo’s statements such as on COVID-19 testing for schools were misguided, adding that state and county resources will be needed for the testing while also praising the county’s overall help so far.

• Root said Saturday, “I am OK with what the governor said; it’s what he didn’t say and the lack of support to carry out these plans at this point that concerns me.” Cuomo indicated COVID-19 testing of students and teachers and tracing the contacts of those who test positive is among the top issues for schools, and that school districts should inform communities of how it will be handled.

“The governor can’t pass on his responsibility to support schools and local governments as we work to implement plans for COVID testing and contact tracing,” Root commented.

He additionally said, “I want to make it clear to my residents that our Camden schools will not take over COVID-19 testing or contact tracing in our area. We don’t have the staff, training or supplies to do this and the governor is aware of that,” The district will partner with Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. and county Health Director Phyllis Ellis to “develop these plans and we will need to rely on the staff, supplies and resources they have in place throughout the county to develop and implement the plan.” He said Picente and Ellis “have been supportive of our schools and they have met with school superintendents as needed since the beginning of the pandemic.”

Picente said Friday the county is prepared to help school districts with testing, contact tracing and related assistance as they reopen.

Root is “concerned that the governor did not make a commitment to supplying all county governments with ample testing supplies in order to test and contact trace with large groups of people.” He said Cuomo “could have committed mobile COVID-19 testing units that would be located in various regions around the state that would assist local governments and schools as needed,” but “schools and local governments did not receive this kind of support from the governor.”

Overall, Cuomo’s decision to allow school reopenings does provide “flexibility and local control within the clearly stated guidelines provided by the...(state) Department of Health and the New York State Education Department,” Root observed. “This was important due to every district having different staffing, classrooms, numbers of students and buses.”

The Camden district has been “communicating information and messages to parents and teachers and we were planning to schedule informational meetings, so the requirement to hold these meetings is reasonable,” Root remarked. Cuomo’s call for districts to post their plans for remote learning, COVID-19 testing and contact tracing separately from already posted school reopening plans is “OK as well,” he noted.

The plan for Camden includes a “Hybrid Learning Schedule” involving pre-K through grade 12, with pre-set days for students to have in-school and/or remote learning. Families can let the district know if they want students to fully learn remotely. Other school districts’ reopening plans similarly call for a mix of in-person and remote instruction.

• Migliori said “I’m happy that we have the green light to open because that’s what the majority of our community wants.”

The Westmoreland district “had a great response with our parent survey and great turnouts at our community meetings, and parents overwhelmingly want schools to reopen,” he commented. “They want them to open safely, of course, but they want in-person and daily instruction. We have worked hard to write a plan that will ensure daily in-person instruction for K-6 and every other day in-person instruction with an alternating synchronous remote day for 7-12.”

However, Migliori finds it “incredibly insulting...that the governor finds it necessary to tell us to communicate with our families and I also find the criteria to reopen just a little misguided.”

Migliori emphasized COVID-19 testing is “something a school district can’t do alone and will need state and county resources.” He said “we are very fortunate in that Oneida County has been communicating with us on an almost daily basis since this began,” adding Picente and Ellis “have been unbelievably helpful and I’m certain they will have a plan to make this work.”

Regarding communications, Migliori said “the district has already had countless discussions with the school community. We have reached out to our families with numerous surveys, have held community meetings, have fielded calls and emails regularly” since the COVID-19 impacts began in mid-March.

“Communications with the staff have been ongoing and committees of teachers have been involved in the planning process. This notion of communicating with our communities and our staff isn’t a novel approach to administration,” Migliori remarked. “To imply that these reopening plans have been created in isolation and that people haven’t had the opportunity to offer ideas and comments or to have their questions answered is frustrating because we, like most, have been so inclusive. The next time Gov. Cuomo is in central New York, I would love the opportunity to have a conversation with him and to explain to him how schools communicate on a regular basis.”

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