Reopening Schools: Questions Remain Over a Complex Process

School buildings can reopen this fall if the Covid-19 infection rate remains low enough but that doesn’t mean an automatic return to all-day, in-person classes.

Districts have been working for months to put together a variety of plans to meet the approval of the state Department of Education , including the possibility of remote learning only, a full-time return to classes or a hybrid plan designed to reduce risk but still bring students back into their buildings.

School leaders, parents and health officials continue to formulate a way to best educate students while keeping them and those around them safe. 

Cuomo said Monday,  “We’re not going to use our children as guinea pigs.”

“We all want schools to open but it has to be safe,” he said. “In New York, we will decide based on the data. Schools will reopen if a region is in Phase 4 & daily infection rate remains below 5% (14-day avg). Schools close if regional infection rate is greater than 9% (7-day avg) after August 1.”

Under review by school administrators an smaller subcommittees, often made up of  staff, parents and others, are questions large and small, beyond whether to physically open at all. Those questions include busing, food services, sports programs, scheduling, how to allow for physical education or art and music or myriad other programs, whether to keep students confined to one classroom, how to move teachers or education specialists around and how to handle a situation of someone in the building shows signs of illness or how to maintain social distancing and whether Plexiglass partitioning is safe.

Underlying  nearly every question and decision is money–what the costs of refitting rooms, buses or equipment might be, or whether layoffs will be necessary, as well as the impact of those possible staff cuts or whether staffs can realigned using skills they weren’t initially hired to use. 

“We have known for decades that different kids learn differently,” one educator said. “None of these ideas is going to work for everyone. But we need to do something.”

New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said Monday, “As we’ve said throughout this process, health and safety of students, families, educators and other school staff, and equitable access to a high-quality education must be the top priorities in reopening schools. What we’ve heard from Gov. Cuomo, Chancellor Rosa and the Board of Regents has us moving in the right direction. The fact-based, data-driven approach to reopening outlined today stands in stark contrast to the reckless approach that some other states and the federal government are trying to ram through.”

Huntington Superintendent James W. Polansky, in a letter to the district community, wrote that he was hopeful that more specific guidance from the state Education Department in the coming days. 

Parents, too, await decisions so that they can make their own–whether to send their children back to the building or stick with online learning.

 

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