Local school districts opened their doors for the 2021-22 academic year last week, hosting the first in-person autumn classes since September 2019. While some parents have expressed concern about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they were informed last month that a planned remote learning option through Ulster BOCES was not going to happen.
The BOCES’ River-to-River program was billed as an alternative remote learning academy that would have required a full-year commitment from interested students, with a per-student cost of $13,000. In order for the program to work, Ulster BOCES would have needed assurances that a minimum of 280 students were joining, and when that number didn’t materialize, the plug was pulled.
The level of interest varied from district-to-district, with as many as 150 expressing interest in the Kingston City School District over the summer. But KCSD Superintendent Paul Padalino said that was still too far off from a firm commitment to help get River-to-River off the ground. And when that option fell through, the KCSD decided to focus its remote learning options on a smaller number of students.
“The fact that we missed a lot of deadlines for other programs throughout the state, we had to go back to parents and say we’re just going to look for remote learning for students who have a serious medical condition that would prevent them from coming into schools and make them make them at higher risk of COVID-19.” Padalino said around 25 families expressed interest in an online E-Academy, and after working with the district’s COVID-19 director and medical director that number was reduced further. “We only have a handful of students that are over in that program,” Padalino said. He added that there had not been a “huge increase in parents asking to homeschool their children.”
Padalino said he hoped concerned families would be comforted to know that the district’s protocols kept students and faculty safe last spring after schools reopened and during their summer program as well. He added that he expected that to continue now that the new academic year is underway. “We had over a thousand students on campus this summer and we had no cases of COVID-19,” Padalino said. “Our fall sports have been running since the second week of August and we had no cases of COVID-19.”
Padalino said that while the district won’t be running a full-time remote learning option, they were able to pivot in that direction even for a limited number of students. “We’re not expecting huge numbers of quarantines, but for example, if a student or a class has to be quarantined, every building has a stash of Chromebooks in the principal’s office,” Padalino said.
In those instances, individual students would be given daily assignments with some one-on-one communication with their teachers.
Not enough interest in Saugerties
In the Saugerties Central School District, Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt said the River-to-River program was never viewed as a COVID-19 option, but rather as a fully alternative program. And he added that there simply wasn’t enough interest in Saugerties for them to make a commitment.
As in Kingston, Reinhardt said parents had the option of home schooling, a process he said “Isn’t just happening now; it’s been forever. Those procedures have been in place for a long time.”
Reinhardt said the SCSD is prepared in the case of individual or small numbers of students having to enter quarantine.
“We’re going to offer multiple mechanisms for those students to get their work traditionally, the old school way of parents picking up their work,” Reinhardt said. “We’re working on a method of providing a tutoring after school that could be virtual…Luckily we learned an awful lot last year about virtual learning platforms.”
Canceled in New Paltz
In the New Paltz Central School District, families had yet to be notified about the River-to-River program before it was canceled. “We were focused this summer on consistent messaging regarding welcoming all students back to the district for in-person instruction,” said NPCSD Superintendent Angela Urbina-Medina. “The district was in the process of identifying and reaching out to families of students who would be vulnerable (medically) if they returned to in person instruction.”
For those students, medical documentation and going through the federal 504 process as part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was required to have an alternative learning option outside of the classroom.
“At the end of the summer the options for the students who might be unable to attend in person were academic tutoring, (one hour per day K-6 and two hours per day for students in grades 7-12) or some other virtual learning option yet to be determined,” said Urbina-Medina. “We are in the process of reaching out to other area BOCES programs to see if they have viable virtual learning options that can be shared with our students.”
New Paltz is prepared for the possibility of quarantines.
“When we shift to remote it will be the whole class, whole school or whole district,” said Urbina-Medina. “If we get to that point it would be in response to an issue that has impacted a population of students and staff members. We know so much more about the virus this fall than we did last fall, which has helped significantly in our preparation for students’ return. We have tried to provide information throughout the pandemic to reassure and assuage the concerns of our parents. As far as parents being uncomfortable are concerned, many parents have concerns, and worries about their kids who are not eligible yet to be vaccinated in this pandemic; I am a parent of two young unvaccinated kids myself.”
Not a ‘realistic option’ at Onteora
In the Onteora Central School District, River-to-River was not regarded as a realistic option as far back as May. “In assessing the design of the program, we determined that it was not a program where all students could be successful,” said Marystephanie Corsones, interim superintendent. “Therefore we looked at other alternatives as we planned our 2021-22 opening.”
For Onteora students in grades K-6 with “extenuating medical circumstances,” the district is working with Capital Region BOCES’ Cooperative Virtual Learning Academy.
“This is a more traditional virtual school option,” said Corsones.
Students in grades 7-12 have been offered participation in Edgenuity, an online self-paced academic program. “This program is through Ulster BOCES, but we’ve added an Onteora learning coach to the delivery model to support our students as they participate in this online program,” said Corsones.
In the case of small numbers of quarantines, students and families will have individualized use of Google Classroom, Google Meets and other communication to ensure continuous instruction without learning loss.
“Of course as with all districts in the county, in case of school closure due to a public health emergency, our schools will pivot to 100 percent remote instruction,” said Corsones.