SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — On the day many stressed school superintendents were relieved to submit their districts’ reopening plans to the state, they probably least expected harsh criticism from the Onondaga County Executive.
Friday, Ryan McMahon used his only briefing of the week to trash many districts’ plans to bring students into the classroom fewer than five days a week.
The County Executive argues that without in-person school, parents will be left to find care for their children or risk their own job.
McMahon, who’d been in touch with superintendents throughout the pandemic, says he asked them to get their younger students into school five days a week.
Due to their interpretation of the state’s social distancing guidelines, most school districts designed their plans to have classroom desks six feet apart, which cuts down the total occupancy to about 12 students.
Districts are splitting their classroom student lists into two groups, with some attending some days and others attending other days. In their days out of the classroom, students would be expected to attend class virtually and learn remotely.
McMahon and school leaders appear to have different interpretations of State Health Department guidelines. McMahon says the highest levels of state government tell him desks can be closer than six feet apart if students wear masks.
What is your school district doing? Check out NewsChannel 9’s interactive map.
“The reality is hybrid plans should be for an infection rate much higher and no one has answered who’s going to watch the kids. And districts have that responsibility,” said McMahon. “I’m happy to see parents have the option for virtual learning but many don’t have that luxury.”
Onondaga County’s current infection rate is 0.9%, the same rate of infection that the county saw at the beginning of the pandemic.
Friday, the State Health Department reiterated its guidance to NewsChannel 9:
Social distancing should be maintained at all times unless safety or the core activity requires a shorter distance, but if at any time individuals cannot maintain social distance for any reason (e.g. traveling around school/hallways) then a face covering must be worn. Appropriate social distancing means six feet of space in all directions between individuals or use of appropriate physical barriers between individuals that do not adversely affect airflow, heating, cooling, or ventilation, or otherwise present a health or safety risk.
“Many people have gone to work every day through this [pandemic] and this is the next step. Every step we’ve taken there has been a little unknown and we’ve been surprised by the results,” said McMahon, comparing the reopening of schools with the previous phases of reopening. “I get it’s tough but we can’t have a situation where learning how to live with one public health crisis turns into another health crisis,” added McMahon. “We need to find a solution.”
McMahon said the school district plans are a starting point but incomplete. He’s asked New York State to look at them and hopefully direct schools to open if they can do so safely.