Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo angered some in the education community around the state by suggesting that technology could replace classroom teaching.

“You know, the older model that everyone goes and sits in a classroom, and the teacher is in front of that classroom, and teaches that class, and you do that all across the city, all across the state, all these physical classrooms, why, with all the technology you have,” he asked rhetorically during his daily press briefing.

According to the teachers’ unions, the governor further exacerbated the situation by announcing the launch of a state initiative with the Gates Foundation called “Reimagining Education.”

“I think that the governor made a mistake by bracing this panel with Gates,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Gates has been doing great things in terms of health care, but the former track record in New York on Common Core was very muddled. People have, still have, a sour taste in their mouth and it just didn’t create any trust.”

But in the week or so since the initiative’s announcement, the administration has fleshed out the panel’s mission, and appointed its members, which include Weingarten, as well as parents and other trusted educators.

It appears that the idea’s sharp edges are slightly softening. In a letter to the editor of the Auburn Citizen, Jim Malatras, president of Empire State College and the Cuomo advisor in charge of the initiative, wrote, “Technology cannot replace face-to-face learning.”

Spectrum News reached out to several people appointed to the “Reimagining Education” panel to hear what they hope will be considered when it convenes.

Austin Ostro is a graduate student at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy. He is also president of the SUNY student assembly and a SUNY trustee.

“I think virtual learning is certainly going to be a key element of it, but I think reimagining education means more than that. It’s about how we can learn the lessons of the last few months, and come out of COVID with a much more robust system that works for teachers and students, including K-12 students and higher ed students,” Ostro said.

Ostro also expects to bring student voices to the table.

Kyle Belokopitsky, executive director of the New York State Parent Teacher Association, hopes the initiative will lead to greater connectivity across the state.

“We have some school districts right now in some areas in our state, we hear from these parents, that they have no broadband. They have no wifi,” she said. “We have some of our school districts that arehaving to actually deploy school buses with set schedules into communities so children can actually get online to do work. That’s unacceptable.”

The AFT’s Weingarten is hopeful they talk money. She believes that education will cost more, post-pandemic, because of the need for social distancing.

If you had some kids, Cohort A in the morning, Cohort B in the afternoon, you’d have to clean the school in the middle of the day, do the kind of sanitizing. And you may have to have, in suburbs and rural areas, two bus routes,” she said, meaning double the buses running each day to accommodate the two cohorts of students.

“Even without having the kind of nurses and psychologists and social workers and guidance counselors, because this has been debilitating and traumatizing, even without having all of that which we need, the mental health supports, you’re going to be spending 20% more to re-open buildings.”

According to the Cuomo administration, there are seven ideas that will be considered by the Reimagining Education panel, including how technology can meet the educational needs of students with disabilities.