Schools and colleges across New York will remain closed for the rest of the academic year thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Friday, May 1.
“We must protect our children,” he said of the decision to “err on the side of caution,” by continuing to keep 4.2 million students out of classrooms in kindergarten through 12th grades, as well as colleges.
Distance learning and meal programs will continue, and a decision on summer school programming will be announced at the end of May.
“Nobody can predict what the situation is going to be three, four weeks from now,” the governor said.
The state is still seeing slightly fewer than 1000 new COVID-19 cases per day. While the number appears to be declining, it is not falling at a fast-enough rate, Cuomo said this week.
County Executive Steve Bellone said he knows the decision wasn’t an easy one, but believes it was the right one for Suffolk County.
“I applaud Governor Cuomo for taking this measured and decisive action that is in the best interest of our school children, teachers, faculty, and all families that call Suffolk County home,” he said. “While there certainly has not been a school year that ends quite like this one, my office remains in constant contact with the School Superintendents Association and I would like to thank each of our school superintendents and all of our teachers who have found innovative ways to continue school instruction through remote learning. This effort has been a herculean undertaking between government and our teachers, school administrators, parents, and even the children who have bought into this coordinated approach and our hope is that the 2020-21 school year will be the best one yet.”
When asked if school would reopen in the fall, Cuomo said he would not speculate, “because fall is a very long time away,” he said. However, the governor opined there would need to be a drop in a stabilization in the infection rate for a period of time, “because kids are going to be kids,” and possibly ignore social distancing rules that schools will try to put in place.
Education centers need to start preparing for how they will protect students and staff when they do eventually reopen, the governor said.
“How does a school socially distance?” Cuomo asked. “How many more rooms would you need to do this? How many more buses do you need to socially distance on a bus? How about a cafeteria? How about a dorm room?”
Locally, school districts are working to figure out their next steps. In an email sent to students before the school closure announcement was made, Adam Fine, the principal at East Hampton High School, said he was trying to figure out a way to create a graduation that adheres to social distancing guidelines and was awaiting approval from town and police officials.
“I am trying to avoid any type of virtual ceremony as I believe you deserve better than that type of event,” he wrote, although it’s unclear now if that can happen. “Our event will have speeches and you receiving your diploma in cap and gown.”
He did not respond to a request for comment.
Mike Miller, the principal of the Bridgehampton School, said no decision has been made yet on graduation.
“We are looking into the feasibility of social distancing and still having graduation this summer with our students,” he said Monday morning. Sag Harbor and Westhampton Beach school districts also said graduation plans are being developed.
Shawn Petretti, the Mattituck Junior-Senior High School principal, posted a letter to the Class of 2020 on the school’s Facebook page.
“I want you to know that Mr. [David] Smith and I have plans for graduation, for the yearbook dedication, the viewing of the senior video yearbook, as well as some other events,” he said, speaking for himself and the school’s assistant principal. “With all that we do, it will be different, but know that Mr. Smith and I will do whatever we can to make sure that anything we plan has that Tucker flair that we all know and love. I encourage any and all of you to reach out to us with any ideas you may have.”