Last week, the 22 school districts that make up the Questar III BOCES region sent a letter to New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker advocating for updated COVID guidance ahead of reopening school in September. The letter recommends changes based on lessons learned this year, the current downward trend of test positivity and the consensus of local school superintendents. The letter was also sent to senior leaders at the New York State Education Department, local elected officials and county health officials.
Namely, the requested changes include loosening mask restrictions, returning buses to full capacity, and allowing for three feet of physical distance.
The full text of the letter is below:
Dear Dr. Zucker:
We ask for your support in providing updated state guidance that would allow schools to fully reopen for all students in September. On behalf of the 22 superintendents in the Questar III BOCES region, we recommend the following based on the experiences and lessons learned of the past year, the current downward trend of test positivity, the most recent guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control, and the consensus of our school superintendents in our tri-county region:
- Bus Travel
- Allow school buses to return to normal, pre-COVID-19 capacities. We cannot return all students to school based on last year’s bus
- Daily Items
- Continue daily screening for students and
- Do not mandate daily reporting to the COVID-19 Report Card
- Safety Protocols
- Adopt the CDC guidance that would allow 3 feet of physical distancing between students within school buildings. It is impossible to return all students to school without reducing distancing within our classrooms and cafeterias. Continue the 6-foot social distancing guidance whenever
- Continue other safety protocols as currently implemented (i.e., cleaning, ).
- Avoid “choose your own guidance” that puts districts in a difficult position with families, students, staff, and others. Consistency is important across our districts and school communities. While the state has allowed local health departments to have some discretion with COVID-19, we urge more uniformity in decision-making where possible and applicable. Within our region, about a third of our districts are based in multiple counties, which makes it difficult to respond if counties adopt different
- Outside on School Property
- Continue guidance that masks are not required to be worn outside on school property by either vaccinated or unvaccinated students and
- Inside School Buildings
- Require masks to be worn by vaccinated and unvaccinated staff and students whenever moving inside of
- Allow vaccinated and unvaccinated staff and students to remove masks once seated in the classroom, within a group setting or
- Allow vaccinated staff not in direct contact with students to choose whether to wear a mask inside the
Our efforts last year – in accordance with state guidance and coordination with our county health officials – allowed many, but not all, of our students to return to in-person learning. We respectfully request that updated guidance for the 2021-22 school year be issued as soon as possible to allow leaders to effectively plan in partnership with local county health officials. In addition, the release of updated guidance from the NYS DOH will allow the NYSED to release their guidance consistent with your guidance. Our schools have demonstrated throughout the pandemic what is possible by working together.
Thank you in advance for your consideration. Please contact me if you would like to discuss these recommendations in further detail.
Dr. Gladys I. Cruz
Questar III BOCES