Reopening schools could take longer than policymakers and elected officials would like as the COVID-19 vaccine slowly trickles out amid safety concerns raised by the teachers union.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has tied the broader reopening of the economy to ensuring kids are back in classrooms, noting education is one of the many facets in which the pandemic has laid bare social and economic inequities.
"You're not going to reopen the economy without parents having children in school so parents can go on with their life and work," Cuomo said last week.
Cuomo is echoing the nationwide push from President Joe Biden's administration to fully reopen schools across the country after nearly a year of the pandemic upending how students learn.
But New York State PTA Executive Director Kyle Belokopitsky, in an interview, said a full return to normal may not be until September of 2022.
"We're still not going to have a child vaccine, and I think it's very positive teachers were in that 1a, 1b category," she said. "But it's still hard to book a vaccine appointment. We're still limited on vaccines."
Cuomo this week signaled he wants teacher vaccination data made available to determine how many education workers have received their shots.
Schools are now operating on a mix of staggered schedules, remote learning, and some in-classroom instruction.
"Everybody in education would agree that if we can bring students back safely in a full-time capacity, that's ideal. We always want students in seats," Belokopitsky said.
The New York State United Teachers Vice President Jolene DiBrango said a full return will require a mix of social distancing, COVID-19 testing, and vaccine distribution.
"It's a layered approach," DiBrango said. "We believe we need to stay the course on these strategies and return to schools when it is safe to do so."
And as the Biden administration moves to require states to still hold standardized exams, DiBrango said this is not the time to test students.
"They have been under incredible stress," she said. "They have seen trauma. They have experienced food insecurity. Parents have lost jobs. They may have seen people get sick in their family, and may even pass away."