The New York State Education Department has released COVID-19 safety guidance for school districts across the state.
The overall goals for the 2021-2022 school year are to keep students and staff healthy and safe, be responsive to student needs, and maximize in-person teaching and learning. To assist schools and districts across New York State in achieving these goals, NYSED has compiled this guide1 based on the CDC’s Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools and American Academy of Pediatrics’ COVID-19 Guidance for Safe Schools.
The state health department had previously announced it would not be distributing safety guidance to schools ahead of the new school year. In response, the education department promised it would do so.
School districts have been imploring the state for guidance as the new academic year approaches. This, as the pandemic persists and COVID cases increase with the rise of the delta variant.
Based on recommendations from the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatric recommend universal indoor masking for teachers, students and staff, no matter their vaccination status.
The state’s guidance also calls for high-risk sports to be canceled and for extracurricular activities to be held virtually, or to also be canceled, in areas of high community spread unless all participants have been fully vaccinated. The guidance also states people who are fully vaccinated can refrain from quarantine following potential exposure if they are asymptomatic.
While the state guidance doesn’t specify which sports are still considered “high risk,” in the CDC guidance, football and wrestling were used as examples.
The New York State Public High School Athletics Association says it’s only a recommendation and says there is no need for athletes to panic.
“We have dedicated school administrators throughout the state that are going to be working with their departments of health to determine how athletics can be played and how students can participated in a way that’s safe and appropriate,” said Dr. Robert Zayas.
“As transmission levels rise, schools should be prepared to take steps such as increasing physical distancing to minimize transmission,” the guidance adds. “Schools should plan for all contingencies and be prepared to pivot to remote instruction as necessary. These plans should be clearly communicated to students, families, staff, and community stakeholders.”
The plan recommends three-foot distancing in classrooms, similar to what’s being recommended by the CDC.
Schools are strongly encouraged to partner with their local department(s) of health, director of school health services, and other health professionals, in general and as needed, in developing their policies and responding to health and safety concerns that may arise during the school year.
The CDC states that “vaccination is the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports.”
Vaccination trials are underway for children under the age of 12 mid-winter.
The CDC has recently updated its guidance on masks due to emerging evidence that demonstrates that the Delta variant of COVID-19, currently the predominant strain in the United States, is more infectious and has led to increased transmissibility when compared to other variants, even in vaccinated individuals.
The CDC states that unvaccinated people remain the greatest concern. Although breakthrough infections in vaccinated people happen much less often than infections in unvaccinated people, individuals infected with the Delta variant, including fully vaccinated people with symptomatic breakthrough infections, can transmit it to others.
Masks are recommended for school events and athletics while indoors, per the CDC.
The CDC recommends that people who are not fully vaccinated should wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people.
Fully vaccinated people might choose to wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings if they or someone in their household is immunocompromised.
The CDC recommends that schools should have a sufficient supply of masks for students and staff who forget their own or need a replacement, including on buses.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration has established masking requirements that apply to school districts.
Much like all Wayne County School Superintendents, Susan Hasenauer at Newark CSD has been reviewing all the recently released guidelines and updating their draft plans to ensure they are in compliance.
Newark made vaccination times available to all staff, but like Wayne County governments and school districts in general, are not requiring it as part of their employment.
County Administrator, Rick House has also had virtual meetings with the school district, as well as county officials throughout the Finger Lakes Region.
Still House indicated he has received a barrage of calls and comments opposing any required masking, or vaccinations.
He stresses that any and all critics of set procedures simply look at the date. A 36 year-old Wayne County resident recently died from COVID and the numbers for Wayne County are increasing.