A return to the classroom for students and teachers is being seen as a major test for how New York has controlled the coronavirus. Parents like Jessica Bassett are worried the state's guidelines might flunk everyone.
Bassett's five-year-old son is heading back to school in the coming days. But she's concerned the state's mask policy for schools is lacking.
"We want to know that all these policies are in place to keep kids safe and teachers safe in the classrooms and, yeah, it's just a little bit of a hurdle to get used to him being off in the world again on his own," she said.
Schools are strongly encouraged to have everyone wear masks to limit the spread of the coronavirus. But it's not a requirement.
"Having this little bit of squishyness leaving it open to intrepretation, I think it's hard for parents to know what's the safest thing, and what's not," she said.
It's a concern shared by the New York State United Teachers. About 200 school districts out of the 700 in the state do not require masks to be worn, NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said.
"We've had local leaders reach out to us and say they're trying to get it in their district," he said. "But because it's only strongly encouraged by the Department of Health, they're not able to get that accomplished in their local school district."
Governor Andrew Cuomo has urged New Yorkers to wear masks when they cannot socially distance in public. Most businesses are required to have their employees wear masks, and can turn customers away when they do not wear one. The state's guidance on mask wearing in schools was meant to provide some flexibility, Cuomo said.
"The local school districts, they don't need me to say in New York City or Buffalo or Long Island where they need to wear a mask," Cuomo said. "A school district can decide on a mask policy specific to that application."
The teachers union acknowledges each district and area of the state is different. But Pallotta said teachers are not insisting on total mask wearing, but that schools should include built-in "breaks" for students and teachers with proper social distancing.
"Certain things should be kept the same," he said. "The social distancing should be kept the same. And we believe the mask wearing policy should be kept the same, making it mandatory."
And for now, many of the largest school districts in the state are foregoing in-person instruction and will spend the first several weeks doing remote learning.