Officials in Putnam County are seeking guidance from the state as they look to reopen more schools for in-person learning while avoiding community spread of COVID-19.
Nearly a year into the pandemic, with various parts of the economy re-opening in different stages, parents, education, local and health officials are questioning: “what is next for schools?”
“Parents and caregivers are understandably concerned,” Putnam County Department of Health Educator Susan Hoffner said. “Families have varied needs and levels of comfort with the delivery of education, as well as the safety precautions in place in schools.
“They are questioning policies and have become increasingly vocal, raising perceived inconsistencies in guidance and disparities among different schools, districts, and counties in the state,” she added. “Behind the scenes, local elected officials have initiated direct conversations with the governor and state lawmakers.”
According to officials in Putnam, the guidance from the state has caused confusion and led to variation between school districts across the county.
“With grey areas of the guidance and varied interpretations, it is time the state steps in to clarify and stop the spread of misinformation,” Mahopac Schools Superintendent Anthony DiCarlo said. “We submitted our re-entry plans last summer, and we have adhered to them. We need clarity from New York State about what revisions they will permit and it should be a regional approach.”
Officials said that one of the biggest aspects of the guidance they seek clarification on is the practice of quarantining contacts that were more than six feet away from an infected individual. They said that those “proximate” contacts have not been defined or mandated to quarantine by the CDC.
The county is also focusing on addressing two other main concerns: mental health and vaccine availability.
“While the primary response to this pandemic focuses on mitigating the spread of COVID-19, we must not overlook the mental health effects as well,” Michael Piazza, the County Commissioner of Social Services said. “Remote learning, either consistently or involving a transition between in-person and remote, can impact the mental and emotional needs of students.
“Among potential educational and developmental challenges, remote learning can pose challenges to the students’ relationships with their teachers and their peers, and some families are experiencing stress on the parent-child relationship as well.”
Putnam officials also doubled down and reiterated the need for the county to receive a greater allocation of COVID-19 vaccine doses that can be distributed and administered to educators.
“Having school personnel vaccinated means they can confidently report to work,” Commissioner of Health, Michael Nesheiwat stated. “It is important that schools continue to remain open for the children, not only for their educational development, but for their mental health and well-being.”
DiCarlo added: “We need vaccines to ensure teachers can maintain continuity in the classroom, and transportation departments can operate seamlessly. Vaccinating our staff and faculty, along with consistent masking and social distancing will certainly help us meet the needs of our community.”
Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell said that “the concerns of parents are one of (the county’s) highest priorities.”
“I have asked Gov. Cuomo directly to discuss the numerous issues surrounding school re-openings with us,” she said. “I want to make sure the state has heard us loud and clear. From day one, our schools have been adhering to New York State Department of Health and New York State Education Department guidance.
“Our districts revisit their health and safety plans periodically - We want to know if New York State is doing the same. The guidance provided by the state must be clear and equitable.”
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