New York will decide if schools will reopen this fall in the first week of August, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday, and tasked districts across the state with coming up with plans in the event that they’re allowed to resume in-person learning.
Cuomo also responded to comments from President Donald Trump, who has publicly pressured governors to reopen schools this fall despite a rise in coronavirus cases nationwide.
Trump, in a tweet Wednesday, threatened to cut off funding for states that don’t reopen schools, saying the hesitation to bring students back has been driven by politics for Democrats. That followed similar comments made by Trump at the White House Tuesday.
“The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families,” Trump tweeted. “May cut off funding if not open!”
Cuomo said Wednesday that he was calling Trump’s bluff on funding, and that the decision to reopen schools would not be based on action from the federal government.
“You’re not going to bully New Yorkers,” Cuomo said. “That’s not going to happen.”
He also, point blank, said that neither Trump nor the federal government had the legal authority to force schools to reopen in the fall. The state will make that decision based on the latest COVID-19 data at the start of August, Cuomo said.
"It's not up to the president of the United States," Cuomo says. "We will open the schools if it is safe to open the schools."
New York is expected to release guidance for reopening schools next week, Cuomo said. Districts will then have until the end of the month to come up with their own plans for bringing students back.
While each district will be tasked with submitting a reopening plan to the state, those plans likely won’t vary much within each region, said Jim Malatras, president of Empire State College and a top Cuomo aide. But each region may have different plans based on their infection rate.
Cuomo said that could mean reopening would look different in some areas of the state, or that some regions will be allowed to resume in-person learning, while others will not. But there’s been no decision on either of those possibilities, Cuomo said.
“It’s not an individual school plan. If there’s a variation, it’s a regional variation,” Cuomo said. “Then, the complicated factor is that you do have a varied infection rate across the state.”
It’s been difficult for schools to plan for the upcoming year without a firm funding commitment from the state. The state, in turn, is waiting to hear from the federal government on potential aid, which will determine if education spending will be cut.
Cuomo has said that funding for schools could be cut by as much as 20% this year without help from the federal government. So far, Congress has not indicated if another aid package will provide the state with enough funding to prevent those cuts.
New York State United Teachers, the state's largest teachers union, responded to Cuomo's remarks Wednesday, saying that parents and school staff should be involved in any decision to reopen schools. Andy Pallotta, president of NYSUT, also said that funding will be crucial to reopening.
"We need the federal and state funding that absolutely will be necessary to do this safely and equitably. This isn’t a matter of whether we can do this right. We must," Pallotta said.