As we continue to confront the unique challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) is committed to the health and safety of students, educators, families, and communities. This week, NYSED issued a Health and Safety Guide to aid schools and districts as they prepare for the 2021-2022 school year. The guide is a result of close collaboration with a wide variety of stakeholders at the local, state, and national levels to enable New York's schools to continue to safely educate their students this fall. The guide is available on NYSED's Back to School web page.
The overall goals for the 2021-2022 school year are to keep students and staff healthy and safe, be responsive to student needs, and maximize in-person teaching and learning. The guide describes important considerations and strategies for schools and districts to manage the risks for students and staff from COVID-19 while supporting robust and engaging learning experiences for students.
We are proceeding with the understanding that the recommendations put forth in this guide are based on the best health and safety information available to us at this time. As the start of the school year grows nearer and then gets underway, NYSED will be mindful of the many uncertainties faced statewide. We will continuously monitor the situation, and the guide will be updated as public health conditions change.
To help ease the burden on schools and districts, federal funding is available to support a safe return to school. The U.S. Department of Education recently announced its approval of New York’s American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) State Plan and released the remaining $3 billion of New York’s $8.9 billion total ARP ESSER funds. The funds will be used to help meet the vast array of additional needs brought about by COVID-19, including the safe opening and operation of schools this September. With input from stakeholders, we have developed a plan to best disperse these funds to benefit all students.
In addition, NYSED recently announced that more than $6.2 million in federal funds are available to help libraries and other cultural institutions across the state address the digital divide, increase access to the state’s cultural history, and expand student access to digital learning materials. These funds will support collaborative efforts to find real and sustainable solutions to address the digital divide in New York State. This significant investment represents meaningful progress in achieving our vision of digital equity and inclusion for students and families. Our libraries will continue to develop bold, creative, and critical ways to serve communities.
The State Library, State Museum, and State Archives will also use $700,000 to improve and expand access to the Office of Cultural Education’s services for all New Yorkers through a range of collaborative initiatives. These initiatives include: supporting the implementation of collaborative digital inclusion solutions statewide; conducting a broadband infrastructure needs assessment for New York’s small and rural public libraries; creating a diversity, equity, and inclusion framework and toolkit for libraries, museums, and cultural institutions; making core collections from the State Library, State Archives, and State Museum available online for increased public access; developing collaborative online Museum exhibits; and expanding New York’s online summer reading program tools.
Betty A. Rosa