The Huntington school district is running a summer program for special education students again this summer, but this year, with an eye on dealing with the Covid-19 epidemic.
Superintendent James W. Polansky said the program, while not a test run for September, is allowing the district to monitor how to meet all safety requirements, including social distancing, PPE/masks, daily health screenings, and student hygienic practices.
The on-site program at Woodhull Intermediate includes two groups of 36 students each attending on alternating days from 8:45 AM-2:15 PM. Classes meet either Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesday/Thursdays.
“All of us are exhilarated to be back in school,” said Diana Rich, Huntington UFSD’s director of special education and student support services. “I am so impressed with the hard work of our summer staff members and their enthusiasm for returning. I am so proud of our students for transitioning back to school so smoothly, especially with so many changes put into place.”
Classes are spread throughout the entire building. In addition to the learning program, some related services are involved as well. On the alternating off days, students engage remotely with their teachers.
“The feedback has been tremendously positive so far,” Polansky said. “Students and staff are thrilled to be back in school, even with the limitations and precautions in place. Parents are thrilled as well.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved reopening school for the program in June.
“Planning began immediately with multiple district members including central administration, buildings and grounds and transportation,” Rich said. “There are quite a few changes from how our summer program has run in the past.
“There were a lot of very happy smiling faces walking through the doors of Woodhull Intermediate School on July 6 and it was just so great to see the students again after the extended closure,” Rich said. “The students arrived ready to work and got right back into the routine seamlessly. I am grateful for the support of the administration, Huntington school board, parents and staff. Without their support we could not have opened.”
Transportation and facilities staff members played a key role in setting the stage for the reopening. District personnel worked collaboratively to quickly put everything in place for students.
“In order to follow the New York State Department of Health interim advisory for providing in person special education services, we decided to operate a hybrid program consisting of a combination of in person and distance learning services on a Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday schedule,” Rich said.
School arrival and departure times are staggered to limit the number of children on buses at the same time.
“We are operating six full day classrooms and three half-day classes this summer with nine teachers, 12 teacher aides, three speech therapists, one nurse, two occupational therapists, one physical therapist and one social worker,” Rich said.
A maximum of six students and three staff members are permitted in one classroom per day. On remote instruction days, students receive two live synchronous 40-minute instructional periods, office hours and posting of assignments from their teacher.
“Thank you to Ms. Rich, teachers and staff for crafting an engaging program and for providing our children with an abundance of support after a challenging few months,” Polansky said. “Additional thanks to district staff for preparing and maintaining the facility, allowing for a seamless start and continued implementation of the program.”
Last week’s program saw 53 students present in school to receive services. Others chose to participate online only and a small number declined all summer services.
“Prior to the program starting, parents were provided with a detailed letter explaining the program and safety measures being implemented,” Rich said. “Parents were asked to indicate their intention for receiving in person services, remote services only or if they intended to decline extended school year services.”
Extended school year services are recommend by the district’s Committee on Special Education after the CSE reviews data, which indicates that a student with a disability will experience substantial regression in the absence of continuous instruction.
“While all students typically regress to some degree over the summer months, substantial regression is defined as taking eight weeks or longer to recuperate previously acquired skills,” Rich explained. “The goal and purpose of the extended school year program is for students with disabilities to maintain progress with individual goals and to prevent substantial regression of skills.”
The district imposed several safety measures and modifications this summer, including:
- Parents are required to complete a daily health assessment of their child before sending to school.
- Staff are required to submit a daily health assessment prior to reporting to work and their temperature is taken daily prior to entering the building.
- All staff are required to wear masks. Students are not required to wear masks, but are encouraged to do so.
- Students wash their hands upon arrival to school, before meal/snack times and after related service sessions as well as periodically throughout the school day.
- Staff have been provided with personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes.
- Increased cleaning and sanitization schedules, which are logged and maintained daily.
- Speech therapists and other staff have been provided with clear face shields.
- Students have been provided with their own bag of personal materials. (Sharing of materials is not permitted.)
- Classroom desks face forward and are placed six feet apart.
- Related services are provided in a maximum group size of two and students are only grouped within their existing classroom (not with students from other classrooms).
- Social distancing markers are placed on the floors of the hallways and classrooms.
- Handwashing signs posted throughout the building.
- No visitors are permitted in building and no visiting of staff and students is allowed across classrooms.
- All special events and activities are canceled in order to avoid large groupings.