One day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a list of 107 public schools that state officials said did not submit plans for in-person learning this fall, officials from several local school districts are challenging their placement on the list.
“I believe lots of districts were put on the list incorrectly,” said Robert Chakar, superintendent for both Andes and Margaretville central schools. “It was a surprise to all of us.”
Chakar said he applied for one-week extensions for both districts and submitted the plans to the New York State Department of Education and the New York State Department of Health on Aug. 7. He attributed the need for the extensions to the New York State Board of Regents’ four-day delay in releasing guidelines for constructing and submitting reopening plans.
“We spent the last two weeks hustling,” he said, noting that plans were required to meet 88 assurances across 13 categories. “Our administrators and our department leaders worked exhaustively on these plans.”
After receiving notification of the districts’ apparent delinquency, Chakar said he resubmitted the plans Aug. 10.
“If I didn’t submit the plan, I’d be the first to tell you,” Chakar said.
In a statement released the same day as the state’s list, Senior Advisor to the Governor Rich Azzopardi said that “the list of districts that didn’t file a plan with the state Department of Health is accurate.”
“Despite clear guidance provided to these schools, which included a link to the DOH portal, some districts in follow-up calls said they filed with the State Education Department — which is not an executive agency — but didn’t file with DOH,” Azzopardi said. “Others filled out an affirmation certifying that they would be abiding by the state’s reopening guidance, but didn’t actually submit their plan, something many of these districts are now rectifying.”
Districts that fail to submit their plans by Aug. 15 will not be permitted to provide in-person learning for the upcoming school year, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
“We submitted the plan Aug. 4, just like we thought we were supposed to,” Worcester Central School District Superintendent Tim Gonzalez said, noting that the district was offered a five-day extension.
“I called the Department of Health on Monday and they said they were pretty sure they got it,” he said, adding that the state health official told him he might have received the email notice “in error.”
Worcester’s reopening plan was updated for a second time Friday, just three days after it was initially submitted, Gonzalez said.
“We were told from the beginning that these plans are living documents,” he said. “As things change, we keep making updates to it.”
Gonzalez also noted that Worcester and the other local districts cited for failing to submit plans — Andes, Margaretville, Cooperstown and Richfield Springs — are members of the same component BOCES district and were all offered similar extensions on the original submission deadline.
“We all took advantage and we all thought we did the right thing,” he said.
The Cooperstown Central School District submitted its reopening plan Aug. 6, according to district Superintendent Bill Crankshaw.
“There’s a link in the fine print we may have missed, but we should not be in any danger of not being able to reopen,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of hard work and I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
Crankshaw said he was disappointed by the state’s course of action in addressing the alleged delinquencies by various schools.
“Shaming schools is not the best course of action,” he said. “It wasn’t a matter of negligence — it was a flaw in the system.”
Richfield Springs Central School District Superintendent Tim Piatti said the district submitted its plan to the state July 31 and “resubmitted immediately” following Monday’s notification.
“It is disappointing that the first response was to call out those schools to the media, rather than working to communicate and collaborate with the districts,” Piatti said. “We should all be working together for the success of our children, rather than pointing fingers.”
Among the other districts cited by the state is “Jeff Youngsville,” an apparent shorthand reference to the former Jeffersonville-Youngsville Central School District, which merged with Narrowsburg and Delaware Valley in 1999 to form Sullivan West Central School District. The district’s reopening plan was posted to its website July 31.
New York State Department of Health Public Information Officer Jill Montag said “there is absolutely no truth” to speculation that the state’s website malfunctioned or crashed on July 31, the day that reopening plans were initially due.
All districts are required to host three to five public information sessions for parents and teachers regarding their respective reopening plans and post plans for remote learning, testing and tracing to their websites by Aug. 21 in order to comply with state standards.