Onteora school district fields questions from parents about its reopening plan

Bennett Elementary School in Boiceville. (Photo by Dion Ogust)

Onteora officials answered many questions from parents last week and tried to lower anxiety levels during an online forum on reopening plans for the school district this fall.

Eventually, Onteora plans to have full-time in-school instruction for grades K-6. For grades 7-12, a hybrid plan calls for students to be split into four groups, each with one day of in-school instruction and the other four days remote.

Parents had the choice to opt out of in-person learning entirely and have their children learn remotely.

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The district had hoped to implement the plan when school starts in September. It has been delayed until at least October. Until then, all students will take classes remotely.

“We are absolutely doing our best. Our priority is serving our students,” superintendent Victoria McLaren assured an August 20 forum, one of several offered for parents.

When in-person instruction starts, screening stations will be set up at school entrances. The stations “will give you a red light, green light scenario,” said Monica LaClair, assistant superintendent of business.

Each classroom will have about ten students, all socially distanced. Decals will mark six-foot distances. Stairs and hallways will have directional markers.

Some hallways will be one-way while others will have lanes, LaClair said. Students must wear masks on the bus. If they do not have one, one will be provided. Buses will be limited to one student per seat, but students in the same family may sit with each other.

For health and safety reasons, the district cannot accommodate dropoffs to any place other than a primary residence except in extreme circumstances and when arrangements with the school administration have been made.

Students in grades K-6 will be required to be logged in for remote learning from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and grades 7-12 from 7:40 a.m. to 2:35 p.m., which is in line with a normal school day. However, the district is aware of the concerns about that much time in front of a computer screen, and parts of the day will be devoted to independent study depending on the grade level.

“We believe students will be engaging in work in multiple ways,” said Jodi DeLucia, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. Teachers will be attentive to students’ need for breaks, lunch and other time away from the screen, she said.

DeLucia said parents needed to make sure they had sufficient devices (i.e. computers or tablets) to accommodate use by their children throughout the day. If families don’t have their own devices, they will be supplied by the district. “Any family member requesting a device will receive one,” DeLucia said. Device pickup schedules will be communicated to parents.

“There is no playbook for this,” said McLaren, who explained that the relaxed state curriculum requirements allowed when districts were thrown into remote learning last spring had ended. All the mandates are now back in place.

“It’s definitely a brand-new adventure,” said McLaren. She encouraged parents to stay in touch with teachers and administrators for changes and class schedules.

Some parents expressed frustration about lack of internet bandwidth, especially in households with multiple children who will need to be accessing computers throughout the day. McLaren said the district has been in communication with Spectrum, the Internet provider for most people, and some improvements have been made. “We all are acutely aware of the unstable Internet throughout our district,” McLaren added.

DeLucia said the district will provide WiFi hotspots in school parking lots. Though that arrangement is not ideal, students can download work into Google Classroom on their computers and work offline. Libraries will also have hotspots, she said.

Google Classroom will be the primary instructional delivery method. If a class is closed to in-person instruction suddenly due to Covid concerns, students will be have a fluid transition to remote learning. Depending on the situation, a classroom or even an entire building may be closed on short notice.

The detailed reopening plan is available at www.onteora.k12.ny.us.

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