School is usually not a topic that fills headlines in July, but 2020 is not a usual summer, and school was a big part of Wednesday’s news for the nation, the state and Western New York.
The day started with President Donald J.Trump threatening to cut off federal funding for schools if they do not open in the fall.
“In Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and many other countries, schools are open with no problems,” he tweeted at 9:16 a.m. “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. May cut off funding if not open!”
During a briefing about two hours later, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the decision on whether schools will open in the fall is a state responsibility.
“School reopenings are a state decision, period,” he said. “That is the law, and that is the way we're going to proceed. It's not up to the president of the United States. There is something called the Constitution that guides government power, and then there are a series of laws that are based on that Constitution. And the president does not have the authority to open schools. We will open the schools if it is safe to open the schools.”
Cuomo said the state will announce a decision on school reopenings during the first week of August.
“We want to make that decision with the best available data,” he said. “The facts change here day to day, week to week.”
Rep. Tom Reed, a Republican whose district includes the Greater Olean area, addressed the issue during a media call with reporters, which took place after Cuomo’s briefing.
“I am a firm supporter of reopening our schools this fall,” Reed said. “We need to do this as quick as possible because details matter ... making sure that we have thought through and are opening schools in the safest way possible.”
To open safely, adequate personal protective equipment, testing and sanitization products must be supplied, and proper flow of information between parents and teachers is necessary, Reed said.
If schools are not reopened, teachers and administrators still need time to develop an educational plan for students, he said.
“The schools are run by the school districts and the superintendents,” Reed said. “So, the school districts should be the ones then making this determination whether or not to keep the schools open.”
Democrat Tracy Mitrano, who is challenging Reed in the 23rd district race, called the congressman hypocritical.
“He says schools should be locally controlled, but he has yet to denounce President Trump for strong-arming public schools by threatening their federal funding if they don’t reopen,” she said. “For the safety of our teachers, administrators and employees as well as for the children and their parents, brothers, sisters and grandparents, we need to put safety first. I do not hear Tom Reed saying that.”
New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta also expressed concern about the president’s tweet.
“Health and safety of students, families, educators and other school staff, and equitable access to a high-quality education must be the top priorities in reopening schools,” he said. “The federal government’s demands that schools reopen without concern for health, safety and equity are simply out of touch.”
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