Results of a broad survey of New Paltz parents and guardians reflect what has been said in public comment sessions: many people think it’s time to get their kids back in school buildings for most or all of the week. With those data in hand, Superintendent Angela Urbina-Medina announced that school officials will be phasing in more classroom time, starting the week of April 12. The transition will begin with Duzine Elementary School, which has the youngest students and then be expanded to older children from there. The weeks leading up to then will be used to finalize schedules, identify teachers for those students remaining home and doing a final reconfiguration of space over spring break.
As of the March 17 school board meeting, responses had been received for 1,574 out of 1,952 children. The rate of response was lower on behalf of high school students than for younger children. Most of the responses expressed a preference for four days of classroom instruction with no changes to the child’s schedule; a lesser number of parents signaled willingness to be flexible on the schedule, and just a small number want to keep their children learning entirely remotely. Urbina-Medina said that among the steps to prepare will be to identify teachers who would be willing to teach entirely remotely to accommodate those students, thus allowing their colleagues to focus entirely on planning for in-person lessons. Simultaneously teaching some students in the classroom and others virtually is not the original meaning of the term “hybrid learning,” which is supposed to combine the best parts of hands-on and online learning. What teachers are doing instead is essentially running twice as many classes.
In the survey, parents expressed concerns about academic performance, as well as mental health, among their children. Most did not feel that remote learning was the best fit for their own kids and reported issues such as anxiety, emotional outbursts and isolation. The superintendent said that mental-health concerns would be shared with school counselors, and that efforts are being made to get everyone in the buildings whose parents desire it. Part of that process is identifying who didn’t turn in a survey and getting them to do so. Another part is to work out how to bolster academic support for all students through the end of this school year and into the next.
Urbina-Medina indicated that figuring out how to fit everyone in the buildings is still not a sure thing. More partitions and desks are being obtained, as well as picnic tables to be used as the weather warms. The more challenging aspects are not so much the classrooms as the eating spaces, as well as transportation. Given the reduced number of students that can be placed on a bus at one time, additional runs might be needed to cover all the stops.
More students in the classroom means that, should someone test positive, more people will have to be quarantined as a result. Urbina-Medina urged parents not to be complacent about potential exposure to this Coronavirus; anyone who is doubtful whether something should be reported is asked to contact the school nurse for guidance.