New York schools continue to ask for COVID guidance after the state has left decisions up to the schools.

The state Education Department issued a statement Thursday in response to an earlier announcement from state Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker that his department will not issue guidance to schools for the start of the year.

State Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa sent a letter asking Zucker to consider the Health Department’s statutory responsibilities as the state agency devoted to protecting the public health.

“Currently, there is no greater nuisance affecting public health and safety than COVID-19,” Rosa said. “There is an urgent need for timely advice and supervision flowing from the state Department of Health to local and school officials as they navigate these uncertain times.”

Zucker’s announcement came a month before the start of the 2021-22 school year. In it, he said when the state disaster emergency ended earlier this summer, districts were once again made the controlling entity over their schools.

“Schools and school districts should develop plans to open in-person in the fall as safely as possible, and I recommend following guidance from the CDC and local health departments,” Zucker said.

The state Education Department said Public Health Law provides the Department of Health is charged with exercising control over and supervising the abatement of nuisances affecting or likely to affect public health as well as supervising and advising any local unit of government and the public health officials within the state in the performance of their official duties.

“The circumstances enveloping the Executive Chamber this week should not prevent the Department of Health from the execution of its responsibilities to the public, as has been promised by the Governor’s office for months,” according to the state Education Department.

Last month, Questar III Superintendent Gladys I. Cruz sent a letter to Zucker and the state Department of Health asking for guidance. The letter was signed by 22 superintendents in the Questar III BOCES region.

“We were all under the impression that the New York State Department of Health was going to be issuing opening guidance for schools,” Cruz said Friday. “So we applaud the Commissioner of Education for basically asking Commissioner Zucker to issue guidance.”

Cruz said the local departments of health have been working with them and all school districts throughout the pandemic.

“Having guidance directly from the New York State Department of Health really allows schools to have consistency across the board,” Cruz said. “We do hope that the New York State Department of Health reconsiders and offers our schools guidance so there is consistency. With local departments of health we’ve learned that they’re not all on the same page.”

Consistency throughout school districts is important to ensuring students are kept safe, Cruz said.

Schools were successful in controlling the virus last year with the layered mitigation strategies in place, Cruz said.

“If we were able to continue to layered mitigation strategies, and there are opportunities to add testing to those strategies, I think we can be successful again,” Cruz said. “Our parents, I refer to them as our partners in education, and I think that together we can open schools safely and keep them open in the 2021-2022 school year.”

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