The state Board of Regents will name its own task force next week to focus on the reopening of New York's schools, Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa said during a radio interview Wednesday morning.
She said the task force will be broken up into four regions, which she did not identify, and will study issues like transportation, safety, mental health and the possible repurposing of space within school buildings.
Rosa said she expects the Regents will have a final report by mid-July.
"We came out and said we would assume the responsibility of reopening schools," Rosa told education advocate Leonie Haimson on her show "Talk Out of School" on WBAI, 99.5 FM in New York City.
It's not clear if or how the Regents' task force will work with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's initiatives focused on the schools, which have been closed since March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to naming a "Reimagine Education" advisory council on May 8, Cuomo said on May 21 that his office will release guidelines in early June for school districts to plan for the possible reopening of schools.
School districts, in turn, are supposed to submit reopening plans to the state in July.
Cuomo has repeatedly said that it's too soon to determine whether schools can reopen in September.
"The state will approve those plans or not approve those plans in July all in preparation for an opening in September," Cuomo said May 21. "Again we don't want to make that decision until we have more facts."
Rosa and interim state Education Commissioner Shannon Tahoe announced April 29 that they would name a task force to guide the reopening of schools. The announcement came one day after Cuomo unveiled his 116-person New York Forward Reopening Advisory Board.
During the interview with Haimson, Rosa said that the Board of Regents and state Education Department — as "the educational entity for the state" — should take the lead on guiding the reopening of school.
"Reopening belongs on our side of the ledger," she said.
Rosa said the Regents have not discussed how to "bridge" their work with what Cuomo's Reimagine Education group might be doing. Tahoe is a member of the Reimagine Education group.
Cuomo advisor Jim Malatras, who is leading the Reimagine Education initiative, told Spectrum News in Albany on May 14 that the group expects to gradually release best practices for K-12 schools rather than a single report.
Rosa said the Regents have been working on its reopening project for about a month and have a "massive" plan to include teachers, administrators, parents and other stakeholders.
She said the task force will study issues related to reopening in "very, very local, regional ways," including by looking at the different needs of urban, suburban and rural districts. She said the task force will also focus on issues of equity.
The Regents received about 165 applications from people wanting to serve on the task force, Rosa said, including educators, medical practitioners, experts in mental health and architects who could offer guidance on repurposing space within schools. She said the Regents are about to notify those who have been chosen to serve.
Rosa said that meetings of the task force will be recorded and posted online. She said the state has applied for a federal grant to support the task force's work and that the Regents are also working with WestEd, a nonprofit agency, on the reopening project.
Rosa also addressed other key issues:
– She hopes the Regents will name a new state education commissioner by early July. She said their search could be narrowed to about 10 finalists within a few weeks.
– The Regents' much-touted review of New York's high school graduation standards has been put on hold to deal with the pandemic, she said. "It’s unfortunate because we were really hearing some incredible suggestions," Rosa said.
– The Regents will also delay for probably a year its search for a company to develop new tests for grades 3-8. This year's annual tests in math and ELA were canceled due to the pandemic.