New York State set a deadline of the end of July for school districts to formulate the framework of three different plans for reopening next month. Local districts devised hypothetical scenarios for a full return to the classroom, a full continuation of the remote learning as used for the last few months of the 2019-20 school year, or a hybrid mix of the two.
Certain preparations are universal. School districts share similar cleaning and disinfecting protocols, wearing masks and distancing rules. Most will offer transportation options to ensure safety both on the way to school and at the point of disembarkation. They will require daily screening for symptoms of Covid-19 or high temperatures, All districts have some idea of how they’ll handle an outbreak, including a plan for quarantine. And all are devising plans while simultaneously awaiting guidance from governor Andrew Cuomo, the state education department and local boards of health.
A common refrain heard during a series of virtual town halls and meetings of boards of education was that these are works in progress, which will continue to take form into September and into the foreseeable future. Local school districts hope to give parents and guardians as much advance notice as possible before the start of the school year, but given the shifting nature of the pandemic the schools might begin one way and very quickly move to another.
The Kingston, Saugerties, Onteora and New Paltz districts recently shared their proposals.
The Kingston City School District’s (KCSD’s) proposal for a hybrid start to the school year have garnered the most attention, with plans including reopening schools for students in grades pre-K-6 , with students in 7-12 studying off-campus through enhanced remote learning.
To ensure social distancing, students in grades K-6 attending in-person classes would be spread out across all ten of the district’s school buildings, including M. Clifford Miller and J. Watson Bailey middle schools and Kingston High School. A staggered arrival and study schedule is also in the works to accommodate social distancing on buses and prevent overcrowding at school entrances.
Students in grades 7-12 will open the school year remotely in the plan. Superintendent Paul Padalino stressed that the district’s delivery will be an improvement based on lessons learned during the last three months of the 2019-20 school year, when the remote learning rollout had to come together quickly.
Also learning in-person under the proposal would be students in grades 7-12 who are English language learners (ELL), or those with individualized education programs (IEP) that requires more direct learning. The superintendent said that it was easier to ensure equitable education for younger students in the district if they attend classes in person.
Students in grades 7-12 would see greater opportunities for individualized learning in the proposal.
“We’re woking hard to make sure…every student has meaningful interaction with their teacher on a daily basis when we’re online,” said Padalino during a virtual town hall meeting held on Thursday, July 23. “We’re making sure that students have the technology they need on hand when we’re online learning.”
In order to accommodate smaller class sizes and social distancing, the district will make use of all of its school buildings for students in grades K-6. Students in grades K-2 will remain in their current elementary home school. Students in grades 3 and 4 will receive in-person instruction in their feeder middle schools. Middle school students in grades 5 and 6 will receive in-person instruction at Kingston High School.
Around a third of the district’s 6,500 students were represented in a poll of parents and guardians, with between 18-20 percent of those responding saying they will have their students remote learn from home regardless of the district’s plans. The superintendent said the district still had to prepare each of its proposals as though all eligible students were returning to the classroom.
“We would rather plan for everyone to come and have too much than plan the other way and not have enough,” he said.
Padalino said that school districts are currently viewing their proposals as temporary, with input from the community, the New York State Education Department and local boards of health likely to impact how education proceeds from September onward. The preference, he added, would be a return to school as it was from last September through mid-March, provided of course that it was totally safe to do so.
“We don’t know how long it will last,” Padalino said. “This is our startup plan. As far as whether we come out into a full, normal school year with 100 percent of our students attending 100 percent of the time, we don’t know when that will happen…That is a decision that will be made in Albany. That will not be a decision made here.”
School is set to begin in the KCSD on Tuesday, September 8.
The Saugerties Central School District (SCSD’s) Board of Education on Thursday, July 30 approved the district’s three-tiered reopening proposal, which came together on the basis of a task force within the district and an extensive survey of parents and guardians.
The district’s hybrid model would see all students in grades pre-K-12 split into two cohorts, with every student attending in-person school twice a week and learning remotely the other three days. Because of the district’s schedule with BOCES, Wednesdays would be deemed remote learning for all students regardless of their cohort. Students in Cohort I would attend class in person on Mondays and Thursdays, while Cohort II students would be in class on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt said that every effort would be made to ensure siblings are in the same cohort. Students with disabilities, English Language Learners (ELL) and at-risk students would also have opportunities for more in-person learning, said Reinhardt.
“We all believe it’s so important to get as many of our students back into the building as safely as possible,” Reinhardt said. “The community really wants some type of immersion where their children are back in school.”
On days where students were remote learning, half their time would be spent in synchronous learning with what’s happening in the classroom, while the other half would be “virtual.”
“Virtual would not be an expectation of synchronous (delivery) because the teachers will be teaching half their students on Monday and the other half on Tuesday,” Reinhardt said. “The expectation for the virtual day would be an educational activity. There could be a video, there could be a lesson that’s taped…”
Wednesdays would be synchronous learning for all students at home.
Reinhardt said that other staggered scenarios were discussed, but deemed comparatively unsatisfactory.
“One of the conversations we had was two weeks on, two weeks off, but the concern was that that was a long gap for students not to be in school. The next conversation was about a week on, week off. The committee thought that was better, but there was still concern that if a child is struggling, it’s going to be nine days before any direct contact with staff.”
Reinhardt said the hybrid plan was viewed as a temporary option to begin the school year, with the hopes of inching closer toward a traditional school setting as safety would allow.
“The goal is as things are rolling out to start integrating more of our students based on capacity, transportation, and CDC guidelines, and more students would go to a full week,” said Reinhardt. “It’s very important that we follow procedures and protocols so every student and our staff are safe so that we can continue the trajectory that we’re going and get more students back in school for more contact time. It’s really important that these practices become normal so we can maintain and keep our students in school.
School is set to begin in the SCSD on Tuesday, September 8.
Onteora is rejecting outright the idea of returning all students to the classroom to begin the 2020-21 school year, citing an inability to ensure the safety of everyone in school buildings.
“A fully in-person instruction model is something that we just don’t have the physical capacity to do in Onteora so long as there is no vaccine and there are social distancing requirements,” said assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction Jodi DeLucia during a virtual town hall meeting on Friday, July 31. “It’s a space issue. Once there’s a vaccine and social distancing requirements have lifted, we will of course go back to the kind of school as we know it. That’s what in person would look like for us.”
Onteora’s hybrid plan would see all students in K-6 attending in-person class five days a week, while students in grades 7-12 would be split into four different cohorts, with each cohort attending in-person class one day a week and remote learning the other four. The cohort in-person days would be either Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Friday, with Wednesdays reserved for all-distance learning for students in grades 7-12. BOCES students would attend in-person Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses on Wednesdays.
With the hybrid model, parents are being given the option of electing to keep their children home for remote learning exclusively, with the district asking for their choice by Monday, August 10. That choice will only be eligible to change on a quarterly basis.
“You will be asked to commit to a model,” said DeLucia. “If you choose 100 percent remote instruction you will be committed to 100 remote instruction. We have to insist that you understand and adhere to this. Even one or two students returning to in-person instruction may shift classrooms and teacher assignments.”
The town hall also revealed that Google Classroom will be the primary form of academic delivery both in and out of the classroom to ensure consistency and equity for all students.
Superintendent Victoria McLaren said that the district was entering “uncharted territory” with the beginning of the school year nearly here.
“Nobody else has been through this before,” she said. “We have some lessons learned from the spring, but not that many because it ended up being such a quick closure. Our priority is serving our students.”
As with all districts, McLaren said Onteora may have to be flexible until the pandemic is truly over.
“We may be serving students in person and then the next day serving them remotely depending on what’s happening,” she said. “We will modify a plan as we need to as we move forward to improve it.”
School is set to begin in the OCSD on Tuesday, September 8.
The definition of the three hypothetical reopening scenarios has been open to considerable interpretation, with districts like the New Paltz Central School District (NPCSD) believing in-person means reduced numbers in the classroom at all time, and hybrid learning meaning a rotating schedule that would bring all the district’s students into classrooms during the week.
“While we were all hoping to start the 2020-2021 school year with this behind us and reopen our doors for all students, that is not possible at this time,” said Superintendent Angela Urbina-Medina in a letter of introduction to the district’s proposals.
As with other districts, the NPCSD favors a hybrid model, with students in grades K-5 split into two cohorts, each attending in person class twice a week. In this scenario, students in the first cohort would attend class on Mondays and Thursdays, while students in the second cohort would attend class on Tuesdays and Fridays. On days they aren’t in the classroom, students would learn remotely. Wednesdays would be reserved for planning, with embedded parent and student outreach.
Live teaching for students in grades K-2 would prioritize social and emotional well being and community-building, while also focusing on literacy and mathematics. Though students will stay in their classrooms for lunch and some special courses like art, their day will be structured similarly to pre-pandemic schooling. Band and chorus will take place in the gym and cafeteria respectively, strictly adhering to 12-foot social distancing rules. Grades 3-5 will similarly adhere as closely as possible to a school day as it was prior to mid-March, while also sticking rigidly to safety protocols.
Middle school (grades 6-8) and high school (grades 9-12) students will also be split into two cohorts, with a similar two-days in person, two days remote learning schedule. Student independent work or teacher directed intervention would take place on Wednesdays.
Parents and guardians of high school students are being asked to notify the district if they would rather their students study remotely full time, with the understanding that they would have a similar schedule at home as students will in the classroom. The district cautioned that some specialized courses and electives may not be available through remote learning should the district proceed with the hybrid model this fall.
School is set to begin in the NPCSD on Monday, September 14, with the week of September 8-11 dedicated to in-person orientation for students in grade K-5. That same week, students in grades 6-12 will visit school facilities on a staggered schedule to pick up instructional materials and supplies.
All four school districts have posted the full details of their reopening proposals to their official websites: Kingston: https://www.kingstoncityschools.org/; New Paltz: http://www.newpaltz.k12.ny.us/; Onteora: https://www.onteora.k12.ny.us/; Saugerties: https://www.saugerties.k12.ny.us/