Area school districts have a better idea as to how the next school year will look come September, but that’s not to say they know what will happen.
Voorheesville School District Superintendent Frank Macri joined his peers last week by attempting to inform families of how he and his staff are working to prepare for next fall. He outlined what has happened, what will happen, what the district is tasked with and the demands it places upon itself. He even included a mission statement. At the end of it all, he shared a list of outstanding items, the last of six bullet points revealed just how much work lies ahead:
“A plethora of more,” Macri stated.
Last Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tipped his cards by sharing schools will reopen depending on how successful particular regions are at mitigating the spread of novel coronavirus. Schools can open this fall provided a region is in Phase IV and the 14-day rolling average infection rate is below 5 percent as of Aug. 1.
If the infection rate spikes above 9 percent after Aug. 1, schools will not be allowed to open. It is not clear what happens if the infection rate spikes after students return to school buildings for their education at the beginning of September. School districts are expecting a decision from the governor’s office between Aug. 1 and Aug. 7.
Districts are finalizing their reopening plans to which they are ordered to submit to the New York state Board of Regents by the end of the month. Bethlehem Central School District assembled a Reopening Task Force comprised of parents, teachers, support staff, administrators and other stakeholders employed to identify issues and address them for the safety plan. Superintendent Jody Monroe warned families last week the plan will be “fluid and flexible.”
“The Task Force will meet regularly beginning [this] week to help finalize our plan and guide decision making leading up to and throughout the 2020-21 school year,” said Monroe in a statement to the district. “Please keep in mind that this plan will need to be fluid and flexible and that the final decision regarding reopening schools will ultimately be made by the Governor.”
Each district is to share safety plans that address three scenarios for next fall. How will schools be prepared for an online learning environment, in-person learning, and a hybrid model often described as a staggered schedule?
Bethlehem residents seemed split between the choice to “return to normal” and a staggered schedule when nearly 300 residents responded to a survey the administration published last month. The surveys were collected just as the academic year was coming to the end of three months of homeschooling. Some of the answers reflected how parents, while filling the role of classroom teacher, struggled to meet the demands of their 9-to-5 jobs.
“I found it extremely difficult to manage homeschooling my children,” shared one single parent, who was identified as an essential worker. “I feel that my children have not been allowed the same learning opportunities as others. … Not all parents have the ability or time to homeschool our children.”
Even with both parents home, another family expressed a dynamic range of emotions to describe their experience. In one response a married couple, identified both as government employees, worked into the evening to make up time lost while teaching their child. Compounding their struggle was the “infuriating” observation of seeing teachers in their neighborhood “running errands” and “doing yard work” during the school day.
“I understand that teachers have their own personal obligations.” said the parent. “My husband and I are frequently working in the evenings to make up the lost time during the day that we spend on our son’s home instruction. In addition, some of our neighbors are teachers for the district, and we observe them running errands, doing yard work, etc. in the middle of the work day. This is infuriating to see as my husband and I struggle to teach our son and work our own jobs.”
Yet another responder was able to share different perspectives as both a parent and an elementary school teacher aide with another district. The aide described how the speed at which the shutdowns were ordered, caused teachers to scramble in order to alter curriculums to an all-online environment. From the classroom, the air described her 1st and 2nd grade students “resilient.” From home, the parent observed a graduating senior and college-aged child becoming “lackadaisical” towards their studies.
“As an overly involved parent, I am struggling to keep them on track,” wrote the parent. “And because of it all, I question the level of education they are receiving. … Whatever happens with education in the future, I certainly hope that every effort can be made to get them back in the buildings — for their emotional, mental and physical health.”
Monroe shared what she described as “only a partial list” of the guidelines the district must set in place before schools reopen their doors. It envisions a school day that starts with parents screening their children for fevers and symptoms. Children will pull on their masks before boarding the school bus and while in the school when students and staff can’t be six feet apart. Football games and homecoming dances are unlikely as scholastic sports and extracurricular activities have not been approved.
Bethlehem plans to group students into small cohorts defined both in and outside of the classroom. The district will also promote hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting according to state Department of Health and CDC guidelines, and school buildings will increase ventilation to outdoor air. More guidelines are expected from the state Education Department in the coming days. All of which are to be included in the district’s safety plan at the end of the month.
“To a large extent, how our programs will be delivered and what our classrooms and schools might look like in the fall will also be determined by the governor and by the guidance the district received from the New York state Education Department and from the New York state Department of Health,” stated Monroe.
As the first day of school approaches in New York, administrators appear to have embraced the need for communication. In addition to stating as such in their reports, Bethlehem Central sent two emails on its reopening plans last week, alone. Voorheesville promises to mail a weekly update starting this week.
“We believe that all children can learn and that the education of each child is everyone’s responsibility,” said Macri in his mission statement to his district families. “The educational success of each student depends upon a commitment to excellence on the part of teachers, administrators, support staff, parents, community members, the Board of Education, and the students themselves. The goal of the District is to provide each student with a strong foundation of knowledge and experiences to prepare him or her to be a productive citizen and to value life-long learning.”