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Cuomo: Districts need to inform parents and teachers on school reopening plans

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo urged school districts on Monday to better inform parents and teachers about their plans going forward to prepare toward reopening efforts, with a decision looming from the state on returning to classes. Credit: NY Governor's Office

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo urged the 700-plus school districts across the state to provide enhanced details of their reopening plans to parents, as a decision from the state looms in the coming days on the return to classes after the coronavirus shutdown.

At a Manhattan news briefing, Cuomo chided some districts for submitting reopening plans that are "indecipherable" and said parents — not city or state leaders — will ultimately decide whether schools are safe enough for their children. He urged school leaders to begin holding online community forums with parents to answer questions.

“I’ll make a determination later this week on the infection rate if we are going to reopen schools," Cuomo said. "But just because a district puts out a plan doesn’t mean that if you reopen the school parents are going to come or teachers are going to come."

Among questions districts will need to answer are how they will apply social distancing; how many students will be tested for COVID-19; how the districts will purchase testing kits, and the expected speed of obtaining results.

“This is not going to be the school district puts out a plan and then by fiat, by dictatorship, that is the plan," Cuomo said. "You need the parents to be comfortable. You need the teachers to be comfortable. You need the children to show up at school."

Without buy-in from the larger community, many parents, Cuomo said, will not trust school districts to ensure student safety.

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"They have questions and they need answers," he said. "The parents are going to make the decision. Nobody is going to tell me whether or not I’m going to send my child to school. I am going to make that determination. And I am going to want to make sure it's an informed determination.”

'A colossal blunder'

Cuomo on Monday also sharply criticized the Trump administration and the leaders of some states which have seen an increase of coronavirus cases, arguing that they did not properly prepare for the crisis, failing to ramp up testing, contact tracing and the supply of personal protective equipment.

While New York is seeing record low hospitalizations and deaths since the COVID-19 crisis peaked in March, nationally much of the country is experiencing major upticks from the virus, including Florida, California, Texas, Arizona and much of the Midwest.

Cuomo pinned the blame largely on President Donald Trump, who, he argued, failed to tell Americans the truth about the risks from virus and then recklessly urged states to reopen their economies.

"The truth is it was a mistake to downplay COVID," Cuomo said. "It was a mistake to say 'it's just the flu.' It was a mistake to say 'it's gone by Easter.' It was a mistake to say it would magically disappear when it gets warm. It was a mistake to say 'I see the light at the end of the tunnel' … Those were all mistakes and untrue and they sent the wrong message to the American people."

Cuomo called the Trump administration's response to the virus a "colossal blunder" and said the explosion of cases was "entirely predictable … It is the exponential pyramid of viral spread."

On Monday morning, Trump again favored reopening, tweeting: "Cases up because of BIG Testing! Much of our Country is doing very well. Open the Schools!"

New York State continued to see encouraging measures in its tracking of the virus, reporting new lows in hospitalizations, patients in intensive care units, intubations of those patients and on the three-day average of deaths linked to the coronavirus for the last day of figures on Sunday. Three people died of causes related to COVID-19 — none on Long Island or New York City — and 536 patients were hospitalized due to the virus, the state said.

In total, 545 people statewide tested positive for the virus, including 58 in Nassau, 50 in Suffolk and 241 in New York City. Long Island's positive testing rate ticked up to 1.3%, while it stayed steady at 1% in the city.

De Blasio: Beyond irritated with criticism

At his daily news briefing, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was "past the point of irritation" with the Cuomo administration finding fault with his plan to reopen the city's schools in the fall.

On Sunday, Jim Malatras, a senior aide to the governor and the president of SUNY Empire State College, told reporters that the city's reopening plan resembled more of an "outline" than a comprehensive plan and lacked substance and details compared to other regions.

On Monday, de Blasio fired back, defending his protocols for reopening schools for the city's more than one million students.

"I'm past the point of irritation," he said. "I am just focused on the work and what I need to do for my fellow New Yorkers." 

But de Blasio and Cuomo found common ground, criticizing a pair of high-profile parties held Saturday night that drew large crowds of unmasked people failing to follow social distancing rules.

The captain and owners of the Liberty Belle, a four-story river boat, were arrested after they took 170 revelers on a party cruise while hundreds of ravers danced the night away under the Kosciuszko Bridge in Greenpoint. The state said Monday that the Liberty Belle's license will not be renewed.

“Overwhelmingly New Yorkers, including large restaurants, everyone, have done this right," de Blasio said. "But where we see something wrong, we have to go in and stop it immediately."

Cuomo used harsher language, contending that the parties were "disrespectful" and against state law.

"It not only violates public health, it violates common decency," Cuomo said. "Look at all the people you endangered. What if one of those people on that cruise gets sick and dies? What if one of the people on that cruise gets sick, goes home and gives it to a parent who dies? It is just really reckless, rude, irresponsible and illegal."

Over the weekend, the State Police and State Liquor Authority checked more than 3,000 restaurants and bars and issued 106 violations while suspending the liquor licenses for 19 bars, nearly all in New York City.

"If you don't follow the rules, chances are … someone's going to be there to watch and to check," Cuomo said. "If you're following the rules, fine. If you're not following the rules, if I were you, I would be worried."

With Michael O'Keeffe

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