Gov. Andrew Cuomo might have a few things on his mind these days, considering growing accusations of sexual harassment and the ongoing nursing home deaths controversy, but two of the region’s state legislators said it’s time for the governor to stop talking about having students in school five days a week and provide guidance to make it happen.
Assemblyman Jeff Gallahan, R-131 of Manchester, and Sen. Pam Helming, R-54 of Canandaigua, are calling on Cuomo to provide the guidance to five-day in-person school after Cuomo touched on the issue in a recent press briefing. Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said in a budget hearing last week that his agency was developing guidelines to allow more students in classes beyond the 6-foot social distancing rule.
At a press briefing on Friday, Feb. 19, Cuomo said he supported five-day in-class school weeks, if COVID-19 is controlled.
“The local governments should be aggressive on in-class teaching unless there’s a community or school that has an infection spike. That is different,” Cuomo said during the briefing. “But if the school doesn’t have an infection spike, and if the school is safer than the surrounding community, then why isn’t the school open five days a week?
Gallahan said in a press release that moving to five-day in-person classes will bring more effective instruction, greater social development, better nutrition and greater safety for students.
“So long as we can do so safely, our kids belong in our schools where they can be safe, nourished and in an environment suitable for learning and social development,” Gallahan said. “We have shown students can play sports safely less than six feet apart, and now we need to take the next step toward getting our kids back on track and developing into well-rounded young citizens. The sad fact of the matter is that home isn’t always an effective or safe environment for learning for some students, and more than that they no longer have a safe place to go where they know they can get a nutritious meal.”
Gallahan added that “school is about more than academics. It’s a place where students can know they’re safe and learn to become members of a community, and that just can’t happen when the only contact students have with their peers is through a screen.”
“If the governor wants schools to reopen five days a week, then the state needs to amend the guidance that is preventing districts — particularly larger districts — from doing so,” she said. “The six-foot distancing requirement would need to be changed. And bus seating restrictions.”
Helming said that a “majority” of school superintendents she’s spoken with “want to return to in-person learning five days a week, and they can do it safely. ”
The impact of limited in-person classroom time has had a big impact on families, Helming explained.
“Schools are safe,” she said. “Kids belong in school. Their lives and their families’ lives have been severely disrupted by the pandemic. Working parents have taken on second jobs as teachers. Some — moms disproportionately — have left the workforce to stay home with their children. If we want to help students and families, if we want to get the economy moving again, amend the guidance and help schools safely reopen.”
Schools across the region and state have used varying learning schedules since reopening in September. Few have gone to five-day in-person classes, other than Palmyra-Macedon. Others have adopted hybrid models, and still others have offered five days of in-person instruction at just the elementary levels.