Cuomo: Parents are the ‘ultimate decision makers’ when it comes to reopening schools

As school districts across New York develop and implement reopening plans, they should maintain a consistent dialogue with parents who will be “the ultimate decision makers,” when it comes to students returning to classrooms, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a media briefing Monday.

The governor said a decision on whether schools can reopen in the fall is still expected later in the week, sticking to an earlier timeline he had offered of the first week of August.

“Just because I say the infection rate is low, that’s not going to cause a parent to send a child back to school,” he said. “Just because a school district says we have a safe plan, I’m telling you it’s not going to work. They have to feel comfortable, which means they have to be part of the process.”

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He urged districts to set up discussion rooms that can be done virtually to explain their plans to parents and teachers so their concerns can be addressed and they all can feel comfortable.

“The parents are going to make the decision,” he said. “Nobody’s going to tell me whether I should send my child to school. I’m going to make that determination. I’m not going to trust what’s on some school district’s plan.” 

He referred to parents as the “most informed people on this issue in the country.”

“Parents are going to want to understand the information for themselves,” he said. “I’ll tell you what they are asking me. I’ll tell you what they’re asking every school district. How are you going to test? How many tests are you going to take? Are you sure you have them lined? Are you sure those are enough tests? Is it a representative sample?”

Districts had faced a July 31 deadline to submit plans to the New York Department of Education, although some were granted one-week extensions. Those plans are required to be publicly available on a district website. Mr. Cuomo had previously said schools may only reopen if their region is in Phase Four and the daily infection rate remains below 5% on a 14-day average since restrictions were lifted. On Monday, he said that approval from the state level would be given in a broad sense that the “environment is safe for schools to reopen.” That doesn’t mean a particular school district is safe, he added.

He said “the devil is in the details” when it comes to the plans, and that some districts have so far issued broad outlines with a promise to submit additional details. He said he doesn’t believe that the Department of Education at this point has denied any particular plan.

At one point during the briefing, Mr. Cuomo called some plans “indecipherable.”

“Even if you could understand the plan, they raise questions,” he said. “And parents are going to need to talk it through.”

Speaking to the overall numbers related to COVID-19, Mr. Cuomo said Monday that the total hospitalizations (536), ICU patients (136) and intubations (62) all represent new lows since the crisis began. The number of fatalities on a three-day average was also at a new low (3). 

“This is all great, great news,” he said. “The progress is even better than we expected.”