ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Bo Wright, the President of the Monroe County Council of School Superintendents and the Rush-Henrietta Central School District superintendent, held a press conference Tuesday to provide an update on reopening school this fall.
Wright says that the experience of last year will help districts move forward into the fall, but he says without clear guidance from the state — something he and others requested in a letter recently to Gov. Andrew Cuomo — it’s tough to gauge exactly what hurdles schools will need to overcome.
“I think now that we have a year under our belt, we have a better sense of what we need to do in order to prepare, and I think we have a better sense of what the guidance will probably look like, but there is somewhat of a guessing game involved until you actually see the guidance,” Wright said.
Wright said he is committed to fully reopening schools, for five days per week, next month.
“Our intention is to fully reopen,” Wright said. “We think we have a moral obligation to do that and I know I speak for every superintendent in the county when I saw that all of us are committed to making sure whatever the circumstances are, that kids have the opportunity to come back to school for five days, full in-person iunstruction.
“Do I think there will be challenges to that? Yeah, I do,” Wright said. “And if I can identify one challenge that has to the potential to be a real barrier, it’s distancing. What’s required and what’s regulatory guidance in relation to distancing — how flexible is that going to be? That’s one of the unknowns we have to wait and see what it looks like.”
He said he assumes there will be some sort or masking requirement for students and staff this fall, especially with the delta variant surge and rising case numbers. He says that’s something that parents on both sides of the discussion feel strongly about.
“You hear feedback from both ends,” Wright said. “Parents will contact you who many not want to mask again, then others who are happy that there will probably be some sort of masking requirement in place, and are encouraged by the recommendations coming out of the CDC and the county.”
In his briefing on Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo encouraged local school districts statewide to do the same with a vaccine mandate.
“I believe school districts should say today, teachers must get vaccinated or tested weekly, if you are in a CDC high-risk area, the red or the yellow zones,” Gov. Cuomo said. “I think they should say that to teachers today.”
The governor said school districts should delay in setting vaccine policies, because teachers will need time to get one or two shots before school starts in a month.
“I think school districts should say ‘vaccinate or test,’” Gov. Cuomo said. “Schools open in one month and if you don’t set a policy today, you’re going to have chaos in one month.”
Following his announcement, officials from the New York State United Teachers union said they support encouraging more vaccinations, but not a vaccine mandate:
“We have advocated since the beginning of the year that any educator who wants a vaccine should have easy access to one. We would support local efforts to encourage more vaccinations, such as through programs that require that those who are not vaccinated get tested on a regular basis. But it’s critical that districts come up with plans to make testing available on-site and at no cost. What we have not supported is a vaccine mandate,” the union said in a statement.
Wright said most districts have a high vaccination rate among the teachers.
“I haven’t looked at the numbers since the very start of summer, but I think it’s safe to say from a teacher standpoint, in most districts, you probably have about 80% to 90% of them vaccinated,” Wright said.
On Monday, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza announced they are recommending all residents, vaccinated and unvaccinated, begin wearing masks in all public indoor facilities, consistent with current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I trust Dr. Mendoza’s opinion as a medical expert,” Wright said. “And I do agree in the sense that if we’re going to experience a surge, as far as school reopening goes, it would be better to go through that surge in August prior to the start of the school year.”
Full press conference:
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