KINDERHOOK—On August 5, state Department of Health (DOH) Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker released a statement saying, “With the end of the state disaster emergency on June 25, 2021, school districts are reestablished as the controlling entity for 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.”
In an email to parents on Friday, August 6, Ichabod Crane District Superintendent Suzanne Guntlow said the state’s decision not to release guidance was “both unexpected and disappointing.”
State Education Department (SED) Commissioner of Education Betty Rosa sent a letter asking Dr. Zucker “to consider DOH’s statutory responsibilities as the state agency devoted to protecting the public health.”
A statement on August 5 from SED reads, “The Public Health Law provides that 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 thereof within the state in the performance of their official duties. Currently, there is no greater nuisance affecting public health and safety than Covid-19. 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.”
The Education Department statement also says, “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.” SED did not clarify the circumstances they mention in the statement, but on August 3 Attorney General Letitia James released the report on the investigation of her office into allegations of sexual harassment by Governor Andrew Cuomo. That investigation led to the governor announcing his resignation on August 10. He will leave office in two weeks and Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul will be sworn in as governor.
At the Tuesday, August 3 Board of Education meeting, before Dr. Zucker’s announcement, Ichabod Crane Superintendent Guntlow said the district was still waiting on guidelines from the state. But she also said the district is making plans for reopening and that the goal is to have all the students in school everyday of the week.
On Friday, August 6, Superintendent Guntlow announced by email that the Ichabod Crane District Reopening Task Force along with the full administrative team and the health and safety subcommittee would reconvene early this week to review the current recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and “discuss updates to our current reopening plan in key areas such as masking, physical distancing and transportation.” Ms. Guntlow stressed that the goal is still to have 100% of the students return to in-person, full-time learning this school year.
‘Currently, there is no greater nuisance affecting public health and safety than Covid-19.’
Commissioner of Education Betty Rosa
New York State Education Department
She also said in the email that “alternate plans may be necessary on a case by case basis for some students who require remote learning due to significant medical concerns. If your child is medically compromised with documentation from a healthcare provider,” a “survey” for parents to fill out was included with the email.
The school district will continue working with the Columbia County Department of Health, said Superintendent Guntlow “to ensure we are taking all necessary precautions to keep our students and staff healthy and safe.”
Both the SED and the health department recommended schools use the CDC reopening guidance in their planning. In late July, the CDC suggested that all students and teachers continue to wear masks and that all schools implement and layer prevention strategies (e.g., using multiple prevention strategies together) and should prioritize universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing. “Testing to identify individuals with SARS-CoV-2 infection and vaccination for teachers and staff provide additional layers of Covid-19 protection in schools,” according to the CDC website says.
Ms. Guntlow said at the board meeting last week that the district could not require teachers to get vaccinated but later in the meeting said that based on self-reporting, about 90 to 95% of the staff are already vaccinated and that county Department of Health Director Jack Mabb has talked about the high numbers of young people in the county who have been vaccinated.
Superintendent Guntlow said that every district in the county is asking the county to fund technology to do Covid testing on-site. She said they could have the school nurse do the testing with parental consent.
She also said that the local Questar III, the regional BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services), is planning a workshop with the other state BOCES to create consistency in districts’ protocols. Ms. Guntlow said at the meeting that consistency is essential.
A week after the meeting, SED informed school leaders that they would be issuing a summary guidance document based on the CDC guidelines and guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics. In an email to parents on August 10, Ms. Guntlow said, “This document should address a variety of questions that will help districts plan for the coming year.”
On a positive note for the school, Steven Marotta, director of Facilities and Operations, reported to the board that at least 95% of the school buildings’ equipment is upgraded enough to handle the recommended MERV 13 air filters. Ms. Guntlow said a full report to the HVAC system will be on the website soon.
The next Board of Education meeting, where reopening will be discussed, will be August 17 at 7 p.m. Information on where this meeting will be held will be on the district website, www.ichabodcrane.org
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email