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Cuomo's office: Not so fast to de Blasio's plans for NYC September schools reopening

Mayor Bill de Blasio said New York City

Mayor Bill de Blasio said New York City is preparing for a return of schools in September, with measures taken to prevent coronavirus spread. Credit: Mayoral Photography Office/Ed Reed

This story was reported by Catherine Carrera, Matthew Chayes, Candice Ferrette, Bart Jones, James T. Madore and David Reich-Hale. It was written by Jones.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday the city is preparing for an in-person reopening of its schools in September, with all the precautions needed to keep the coronavirus at bay, though Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office said the mayor does not have the power to make that decision.

The head of the city teachers union also cast doubt that a return to in-person classes is a done deal.

And on Long Island, Suffolk County Community College and Nassau Community College both announced they had received approval for their plans to reopen this fall, but most of their classes will be offered online.

New York City public school officials are developing the plans to return to in-person instruction with mandatory social distancing, hand-washing stations, face masks and sanitizing, as well as deep, daily cleaning of buildings, de Blasio said.

He said schools may operate on staggered schedules.

"You’re going to see constant use of face coverings. They'll be provided for free for anyone who needs them — kids, adults alike," de Blasio said. "Everyone will be expected to wear face coverings. You'll see social distancing, that 6-foot rule will be in effect."

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But a spokesperson for Cuomo said plans for schools still depend on what the governor decides.

"The state law governing schools and business closings or openings has been in effect since the pandemic first started and all such decisions are made by state government and not local government," Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever said in a statement.

"Of course the state consults with local stakeholders, and when it comes to opening schools in New York City, we will consult with parents, teachers, health officials and local elected officials — but the Governor has said any determination is premature at this point and we will need to see how the virus develops."

Lever said Cuomo has instructed school districts to come up with reopening plans in the event that is permitted. "The Governor hopes schools will reopen but will not endanger the health of students or teachers, and will make the determination once we have more current information.

"We value the opinion of local politicians and the state's 700 local school districts as to what should be done, but the public should not be confused on this important decision that has practical consequences for many," she said.

Michael Mulgrew, head of the UFT teachers union, said: "Schools will reopen in the fall — even on a limited basis — only when the safety of students, parents and staff is assured."

De Blasio later tweeted: "We're deep in planning to make the 2020-2021 school year the best academic year NYC has ever had. Health and safety will come first as we work to get our kids back in school."

At his news briefing, de Blasio called reopening a goal, but said a survey of New York City parents shows 75% want kids sent back to school. "We’re full steam ahead for September, the goal of course to have the maximum number of kids in our schools as we begin schools,” he said.

LI community colleges plan for fall semester

On Long Island, Suffolk County Community College’s reopening for the fall semester has been approved by the State University of New York, though most classes will be online, college officials said.

Classes at Suffolk are set to start Sept. 2, and will take place in four ways, from online to in-person to a combination, though 88% will be online with no need for enrolled students to visit any campus, interim college President Louis Petrizzo said.

“Twelve percent of classes will require some face-to-face campus experience, such as science labs or 'hands-on’ instruction, which may be required by accrediting bodies” or the New York State Department of Education, the college said in a statement.

Hand sanitizing, social distancing and face masks will be part of the return to campus for students, faculty and staff, the college said. College employees physically working on campuses will be subject to daily health screenings.

Nassau Community College also received approval from the State University of New York for its fall reopening plan, which entails mostly online classes.

“For the fall, under the guidance of state and county officials, and placing health and safety first, Nassau Community College will provide the majority of courses that can be instructed remotely or online in this format,” said Lindsey Angioletti, director of marketing and communications for Nassau Community College.

Courses that require hands-on or face-to-face instruction, such as classes with lab components, will be done in person and “following appropriate health and safety guidelines and procedures to maintain the safety of the NCC community,” Angioletti said in a statement.

'Celebrate safely'

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Thursday urged residents to “celebrate safely” during the Fourth of July weekend and “use common sense.”

He said Suffolk residents had accomplished “an amazing feat” and have “essentially crushed the curve” of the COVID-19 spread.

However, he added: “We want everyone to enjoy our beaches and our parks … but we need to stay on track.”

“We want people to understand the importance of adhering to the guidelines,” he said, by wearing face masks and keeping social distance.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said June applications for food stamp benefits were up 41% from the same month last year.

“Believe it or not that is actually good news compared to the previous months,” Curran said.

In partnership with Island Harvest, county officials and volunteers distributed 100,000 pounds of food at the NYCB Live: Home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum site Thursday — what Curran called “the largest food distribution in New York State history.”

Bellone: a decade of economic fallout

New York State registered 875 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, for a 1.25% level of people testing positive. The level on Long Island was 1.1%, and in New York City 1.3%.

Nassau County reported 57 new confirmed cases, while Suffolk had 64. New York City had 427 new cases.

Ten people died in the state from coronavirus-linked causes, down from nearly 800 at the peak of the pandemic.

In the region, Northwell Health on Thursday said it had 143 COVID-19 patients, down 12 over the last two days.

Bellone said economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic could last 10 years if the federal government doesn’t bail out struggling state and county governments. He said Suffolk needs to know later this month or early August if financial assistance will be coming.

Bellone said Long Islanders by and large are complying with Cuomo’s order requiring masks in public places.

“You go into a store, everybody's wearing a face covering … We have that kind of compliance that we need to keep up because it’s the key to being able to reopen our economy safely and not having to slide back,” he said.

Bellone said he’s worried about a spike in coronavirus cases when cold weather returns and pledged to increase contact tracing.

“My concern is not with the summer," he said, "it is with the fall, as we look to reopen our schools, as we come back together indoors.”

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