ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Kathleen Graupman, Greece Central School District Superintendent and President of the Monroe County Superintendents Association, is scheduled to speak Tuesday after the governor announced students will return to the classroom full-time this fall.
During Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s COVID-19 briefing Monday, the governor announced that based on current trajectories, all New York state schools will be set to reopen for full in-person learning come September.
“Our children lost so much as COVID struck our state. A year of socialization, a year of memories, and even more,” Gov. Cuomo said. “While teachers and school administrators did an incredible job pivoting to remote learning with virtually zero notice, there’s no denying the discrimination students who did not have the right equipment faced. With the way our COVID numbers are currently trending, there is no reason why our students should not get back to in-person learning as usual and we look forward to welcoming them back. If there is a change in the trajectory of the virus, we will revisit the decision.”
According to Graupman, all of the districts in Monroe County are aligned in that they want to fully reopen this September.
“I have not heard of one district that is not planning on coming back fully in the fall,” she said.
Graupman said Tuesday that local education leaders are hoping to receive specific guidance from the state sooner rather than later.
“We have continued to urge and plead for that guidance for reopening in September to come now,” she said. “We don’t want it in August, we don’t want it in late July — I want it now so that we can plan and make sure that this is a done deal. It’s clear and that we can communicate with our families because they have been the ones that are incredibly patient.”
On that guidance, Graupman said she didn’t want to speculate what rules might be included, but she added that mandatory distancing remains a tough barrier to overcome.
“There are some smaller districts on the outskirts of Monroe County who are smaller, and because they have bigger footprints and more space, have been able to do that [distancing], but the majority of us are really stuck because the New York State Department of Health, even with three feet, that’s difficult — particularly at the high school level with so many students,” she said.
In terms of mandatory vaccines, Graupman said she didn’t want to speculate on that either.
“Given that it [vaccine] is being used as an emergency use, we’ve never made an emergency use vaccine mandatory in schools,” Graupman said. “That has been the case, so my continued answer to our families is I don’t think so based on that, but I hate to speculate because depending on what the governor and department of health decide to do, that could change as well.”
Graupman says schools have largely proved a safe space for students and staff during the pandemic.
“We’ve proved that we an bring kids back safely,” she said. “We’ve proved that with mitigation strategies that all of us have implemented all year long. That we can do it without transmission in schools, with a positivity rate below 1%. So I feel really secure and safe with saying ‘yes, we can bring our kids back.’ Particularly now with so many people vaccinated — 75% of our staff is vaccinated as well as our teachers so I feel like we’re in a great place.”
Based on the unknowns of potential future guidance, Graupman says planning for high schools, with more students will be a challenge.
“Revamping schedules at the high school, completely redoing the way we use physical space in the schools,” Graupman said. “If we need to use the physical space in a school, if we need to do that to get our kids back full time, we will absolutely do that, but I’m going to say I’m hopeful, nd would really urge and advocate for guidance to be relaxed.”
Despite the challenges of the past year, Graupman says students and staff in her district in Greece seem to be doing well from a morale standpoint, especially for younger students who were allowed to return to the classroom on a more traditional level.
“I was at a field day the other day, I’ve been in and out of school, and the teachers are happy,” Graupman said. “I’m really happy to have the kids back, the kids are happy to be together, and there really hasn’t been any issues.”
Although the next school year is months away, Graupman expressed confidence that things will look more normal come September.
“When you look at the data and the numbers right now, when you look at what is happening in terms of vaccination, when you really look at the science behind all of this — it really looks favorable to having our kids back full time, all of them. So I am very optimistic.”
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This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.