These notes were shared with us by a WNY Students First Parent. They have been slightly modified to preserve the identities of government personnel.
On 2/22/21 at 1:31 p.m. I called looking to speak with the Assistant Commissioner, Office of School Governance, Policy and Religious and Independent schools for the State Education Department. I was calling about an August 26, 2020 memo regarding COVID 19 Reopening Guidance - Facilities Clarifications - http://www.nysed.gov/common/nysed/files/programs/reopening-schools/reopening-plans-clarifications-memo.pdf. Specifically, I wanted clarification about (4) Desk Separation and having six feet of distance between desks in the schools.
When I called the phone was answered by an assistant and I explained the reason for my phone call. She advised that this was a facilities memorandum and I would need to speak with individuals in the New York State Education Department facilities planning department about the intention behind the memo. She gave me their contact information. I hung up and immediately called that number and a voicemail picked-up and I left a message that I was looking to discuss the August 26, 2020 memo.
Within minutes I received a call back. I mentioned that I was confused by the August 26, 2020 memo directing six feet of distance between desks because it contradicts the NYSDOH Guidance of the same day, August 26, 2020, that defines social distancing as six feet OR a physical barrier. The individual I spoke with said he believed the intention behind the memo was six feet regardless of a barrier, but he wanted to confer with the architect he worked to draft this memo. I was put on hold for a few minutes and when he returned he said he spoke to the architect and the intention behind the memo was to have six feet distance between desks in school regardless of a barrier when the guidelines were drafted.
I then said I was confused because the NYS Education Department law says six feet between desks but the NYS Health Department required 6 feet distance or a barrier. I also mentioned that my daughter goes to preschool at a private school and she sits at a desk with two other students and there are barriers, but nowhere near 6 feet of distance and that I also know other schools that are open without six feet of distance in New York State. He responded that all of the information I was citing are guidelines and not laws. He said laws have to be passed by the NYS Legislature and there has been no law passed by the NYS Legislature requiring six feet or barriers in schools. I asked if schools do not follow these guidelines would there be consequences, such as loss of funding? He said no, because again, they are guidelines and not mandatory. He said schools may feel like they should follow the guidelines, but there is no requirement that they do so.
I asked who makes the decision for my school district that there needs to be six feet of distance between desks? He said each district acts as its own governing body and it is up to the School Board, Superintendent and administration to decide how to reopen. For clarity, I said if my district decided to reopen full-time and five days without any distancing right now they could? He said yes.
He recommended that I speak with a woman in Student Support Services. I have been unable to connect with her to date.