By Katherine Long | Editor

All school districts in New York State can open for the start of the new school year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Aug. 7.

“Every region is well below our COVID infection limit, therefore all school districts are authorized to open,” the governor said in a Facebook post.

“If the infection rate spikes, the guidance will change accordingly. School districts are required to submit plans to NYS for review, and they must abide by our strict Department of Health guidelines. Parents and teachers must feel safe and secure in each school district’s plan to return to school. School districts are required to have 3-5 discussion sessions before August 21 with parents and community members, and separate discussions with teachers,” the post said.

All 22 of the diocese’s Catholic schools plan to provide in-person, full-day instruction five days a week when the academic year begins in September, according to diocesan superintendent William Crist. Schools also intend to provide entirely remote instruction for students who choose not to return to in-person instruction, he said, and each school will also set guidelines for how students may re-enter in-person instruction.

The diocese’s 18 elementary schools and four junior/senior high schools are still finalizing their individual plans — which are to include protocols for social distancing, use of masks and protective gear, personal hand and respiratory hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting of school spaces, and monitoring of health conditions in the school — for reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic. Reopening plans were submitted to the New York State Department of Health by July 31, Crist told the Sun Aug. 5, and plans were also to be submitted to the State Education Department by Aug. 7, according to guidance from the State Office of Religious and Independent Schools.

Surveys sent to Catholic school families indicated “65 to 80% of parents would like their children to come back five days a week,” Crist said.

Returning to in-person instruction is possible because of “the very size of our schools and the communities that make them up,” Crist said. About 4,300 students, from pre-K 3 to grade 12, are currently enrolled across the 22 schools, and the average class size is 15 students, he said. Some of the schools are starting to see enrollment increases as families explore options for education in the fall, he noted.

“We believe through the recommendations and practices that have been put forth by the Departments of Health, both locally and at the state level, that we are able to adhere to those practices,” Crist said. That will allow “[us] to come back together as a school community and as a faith community.”

This story has been updated to reflect that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has authorized school districts to open.

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