New Paltz, Saugerties, Onteora and Kingston school officials are preparing for a school year that will be closer to the old normal than either of the past two. All children will be expected to attend in person, five days a week; there will be no remote or hybrid options provided.
If a surge of cases is experienced, all instruction will be virtual, but state officials are not requiring any plans for kids who are kept home at other times.
Everyone in the buildings will have to keep their faces covered and keep three feet apart from one another, and the deep cleaning that’s been done midweek is going to be shifted to the evening hours instead. While there has never been any official guidance requiring Plexiglas partitions, some of the hundreds purchased for classroom use will be placed in the cafeterias — but students will not be forced to sit in what some parents and teachers have described as “fishbowls” that make seeing and hearing difficult.
With hybrid and remote options being discontinued, delivery of meals for children who are learning from home will also be off the table. Superintendent Angela Urbina-Medina said that providing such a service was challenging due to a “crisis in staffing food service” positions. Every type of service provided is complicated by this pandemic; when someone is exposed to this coronavirus, then a substitute must be brought in to do that job and those are in short supply.
Urbina-Medina explained the current plans at the August 4 school board meeting. While these details provide some clarity, the superintendent noted that there is a “lack of guidance” about many of the particulars. It’s also understood that the rules could be changed based on the number of cases reported.
Shortly before the Kingston City School District made its announcement on Friday, August 6, Superintendent Paul Padalino said that both he and the Board of Education were in favor of a mask mandate as schools reopen for the 2021-22 academic year next month.
“All the science tells us the masks work,” Padalino said. “I know some people don’t believe in this, but the science is pretty clear. Last week here at central office, we went to masks required indoors just because we’re getting close to the beginning of the school year and the last thing we needed is people in central office getting sick.”
Padalino added that the district would do its best to stick to three-to-six feet of social distancing in school buildings.
“Obviously our cafeterias are going to be a struggle,” Padalino said. “That’s one of the things that we’re working on. At the high school, we have 400 kids in a lunch period and that’s a challenge.”
The superintendent added that tents purchased for outdoor classes last year would likely be used again this fall. He also encouraged parents to keep students home if they’re feeling unwell. And while the district collected the laptops used by students during remote learning in 2020-21, they can quickly be redistributed if necessary.
“Obviously we’re prepared to switch to remote learning, whether it be for a classroom or a school building or the whole district, at the drop of a hat,” Padalino said.
The Saugerties Central School District also announced they’d be able to pivot to remote learning should the need arise, but in an August 6 statement posted to the official district website, Supervisor Kirk Reinhardt said they hope to keep schools open and safe.
“Our goal is to hold 100-percent in-person instruction five days a week for our students,” said Reinhardt. “We will continue to monitor the guidance from the DOH (Department of Health) or the State Education Department and adjust these requirements as conditions change. We are committed to providing a safe learning environment for all students and staff.”
“As of this date, we have received no guidance from the NYS Department of Health (DOH), the New York State Education Department (SED) or the Governor’s Office about requirements for the opening of school,” Interim Superintendent Marystephanie Corsones said in a letter sent to parents on August 6. “We continue to plan and hope for a full return to in-person instruction for all students.”
Corsones said schools will be open for in-person teaching and learning only and students are expected to be in school five days per week as permitted by health officials. As of now, the district will only move to remote learning in the event of a declared public health emergency.
“We will not be able to provide the same remote option for students that we did last year. While we recognize that in some unique instances a remote-only option may be needed for some students, we, as a district, will not be able to provide an Onteora-specific remote option as we did last year,” she wrote to parents. “Therefore, the district has been researching remote-only options and has identified potential partnerships.”
All students and staff will continue to be required to wear a mask while indoors regardless of vaccination status and will be required to answer questions in the district screening app before entering buildings. Anyone experiencing Covid-19 symptoms should not come to school. If symptoms develop during the day, the student or staff member will be sent home.