Schools across the state have been opening and closing repeatedly as COVID-19 cases swell either in the school or in the surrounding community.

Kyle Belokopitsky, executive director of the New York State PTA, says that although it has been difficult, parents understand that schools are doing what they can. 

“I think parents and families understand that schools are really doing their best right now to be sure that everybody is healthy, both staff and educators and students,” Belokopitsky said. “We’re going to see this type of back and forth where we may have a few days shut down to do some contact tracing and then we have a reopening process.”

Right now the state has a multi-cluster strategy approach when it comes to closing schools. 

Schools in a yellow zone can remain open, but must test 20% of everyone on campus once a week.

Schools in an orange and red zone must close for at least four days, but can reopen if everyone is tested before returning. Then 25% of everyone on campus must be tested weekly at random.

However, Bob Lowry with the New York State Council of School Superintendents says that schools are finding it challenging to find someone to administer these tests and getting parents to agree to have their children tested.

Lowry said that in Broome County it was a struggle to have county health departments partner with schools, whereas in Monroe County things are working much more smoothly.

“I would say at least through September it was really impressive the amount of cooperation that was going on between school districts and county health departments,” Lowry explained. “I think things have become more challenging with the zones and the additional testing requirements.”

Meanwhile, schools in New York City closed this week sparking outrage among some parents who say schools should be the last to close. 

The New York City school system operates under a different strategy then the rest of the state.

Belokopitsky says she is glad the state is focused on keeping upstate schools open as much as possible, but also emphasized the need to figure out a more reliable testing strategy in schools. 

“We assume that as cases fluctuate we’re going to have more schools go into a yellow zone… that go into that testing type of method,” Belokopitsky said. “And the school districts are just now sort of figuring that out with our health departments.”

Right now there are 23 cluster zones in 14 different counties.