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School District Safety Measures Pay Off With Low COVID Rates as Infections Spike Elsewhere

WAER file photo

The head of the New York State School Boards Association says all the planning and preparation to reopen schools safely this fall is paying off with very low infection rates.  Executive Director Robert Schneider says districts worked fast and spent a lot of money to follow state protocols to get students back in buildings. 

He says 83 percent of districts have hybrid or in person learning.

"Face-to-face instruction is so important for the development of a students, and also the other interactions in a building a student has with their peers, friends, activities, and other adults.  Overall, this was a really tough task to pull off, and our school districts have demonstrated they can do this in a compassionate, professional, and safe way."

Schneider says despite logistics and other challenges, ongoing testing of students and staff is essential in areas where community infection rates are high in order to ensure schools remain safe.  Meanwhile, he’s concerned about a growing learning gap.  Schneider says not all students learning remotely are able to make gains.

"We are seeing learning losses, especially with those students who are at risk, in poverty and don't have the proper devices to do the remote learning, or are in areas without broadband infrastructure."

For example, he says 27 percent of students have inadequate internet connections, and 21 percent have insufficient devices.  Schneider says they’re working with districts to close the divide, but that could prove difficult with budgets feeling the strain of increased pandemic spending and lost tax revenue. 

"They're not allowed to keep a large balance in reserves; they're capped at a certain level.  Those monies are being spent down.  Statewide on average, it costs a district $500,000 more to get all the PPE, all the devices, all the planning to reopen their schools."

On top of that, the state is withholding 20 percent, or $300 million in aid, and has not reimbursed districts for transportation costs incurred last spring when school buses were used to deliver meals to needy children.