New York schools in the coming weeks will reopen and officials from the Biden administration on down to local teachers union officials hope all students will be able to attend in person. But there are questions over how the logistics of how schools, stretched thin by more than a year of crisis and uncertainty, will do so as the summer reaches the midway point.
"We strongly believe that every parent should have that option to have their child sit in a seat come September 8 when we re-open schools in New York state. It's time," said Kyle Belokopitsky, the executive director of the New York State PTA.
Most schools in the state have operated under uncertainty since March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic forced in-classroom instruction online, and since then, many have operated with a mix of in-person and remote learning. The arrangement has been less-than-ideal for parents and students who have struggled with imperfect technology.
And the specifics of who can return remain up in the air: What about students who are vulnerable to illness? What about their parents?
"We have to get all of our 2.6 million school children back in our schools come Labor Day, but how do we also deal with students who may need remote instructions or students who have comorbidities or parents who have comorbidities," Belokopitsky said.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released their own school reopening guidance that makes mask wearing optional for students, teachers and staff who have been fully vaccinated. But state officials are yet to do so. For now, it's not clear what the policy will be for vaccinating children. Those under 12 do not yet qualify for the vaccine, and the issue could open up another faultline for families.
"We believe that is a parental and family decision," Belokopitsky said. "We do not support a mandatory vaccine for our students. Every family has to make that decisions with their pediatrician."
Albany Public School Teachers Association President Laura Franz is also awaiting guidance on the specifics of reopening from the state.
"My concern is without any guidance from New York state DOH or state ed we're all sort of waiting as districts to make our plans for what reopening looks like," she said.
But Franz is confident students who may have fallen behind because of the pandemic will be able to catch up with help from educators.
"Teachers will meet our students wherever they are just like we always do," Franz said. "We are going to find out where our students are and we are going to move from there and we will continue to push and move our students forward."