The first week of school in the Onteora Central School District appeared to be a relatively smooth one as students returned to full-time in-person learning, according to Interim Superintendent Marystephanie Corsones.
“Woodstock reported they were very excited to get the fish tank in their lobby back because this is a place where students go to kind of take a break and decompress,” Corsones said at the September 14 Board of Education meeting. “And so they were excited to have that back.”
Students at Bennett Elementary got a visit from a therapy dog and staff has worked with students as they adjust to being in school. “I know at the middle school. The students have really been incredible about taking on responsibilities as…many of them [are] getting to know the building for the first time,” she said. And at the high school, Homecoming plans are already underway, she reported.
Onteora is partnering with Neal Smoller of Village Apothecary to test teachers and staff for COVID-19. The testing is voluntary for those who are vaccinated, but is required weekly by state law for those who are not vaccinated. The requirement also applies to bus drivers and substitute teachers, Corsones said. “I can’t give Mr. Dr. Smoller enough praise because this is a huge logistical undertaking.”
Corsones also thanked medical director Suellen Elmendorf, Director of Pupil Personnel Services Amanda Allison and District Clerk Fern Amster.
The first rollout of the testing will be for staff, followed by testing of students at a date to be determined.
Seventh- and eighth-graders want access to phones at lunch
Trustee Emily Sherry said since students are not allowed to travel between lunch tables due to COVID precautions, seventh- and eighth-graders are finding it difficult to find things to fill the time. “Kids who may not have a friend group yet, kids who are in a very loud lunch environment who are unable to go outside because there are no tables left, are kind of very isolated and are saying that access to their phones would help them get through that kind of very long window of what do they do after they’re done eating,” Sherry said. “I’m not sure that seventh- and eighth-graders are really looking to do schoolwork or coloring books or, you know, kind of figure out how to fill that 45 minute period…So I’m not sure what the process is to have that discussion. But I did want to reach out to all of you and see what people thought about that.
“I’ve not had anyone say to me, I want to be able to access my phone all day like the high schoolers. I’m just hearing that lunch has been quite isolating for some of the seventh- and eighth-graders and that they’re looking for ways to kind of entertain themselves and are struggling because they cannot move from table to table.”
Board of education president Kevin Salem said he wanted to understand the rationale for students not being allowed to use their phones at lunch. “I witnessed this with my own child, I’ve always found it just a wee little bit heartbreaking that students do homework at lunch,” he said. “It’s not that long a period of time and I have always tried to convince people of the efficiency and the energy that they’ll get by taking a break.”
Sherry said she understands limited access to phones at other times, but lunch is their free time. “I understand why seventh- and eighth-graders can’t pull their phones out during class. I don’t want my kid on Tik Tok while he’s supposed to be paying attention in English,” she said. “However, at lunch, when they’re sharing spaces with other eighth-graders, or seventh-graders, and they’re not using it during the day, I’m not really sure why at lunchtime, it’s not something that they can access, if that is where they’re comfortable.”
Trustee Laurie Osmond supported Sherry’s concerns. “Our middle-schoolers are coming off of seven years of recess and there is no recess in the middle school and in the high school,” Osmond said. “And so, as Trustee Salem said this is their time to do what they want.”
Trustee Valerie Storey said in years past, in junior high and above, once students were done with lunch, they could go to the gym and play kickball or do other activities. “But because of COVID, I don’t think that’s available,” Story said. But she cautioned that the school year had just started and the teachers and staff need time to get used to things.
Corsones said staff did offer students the opportunity to go outside after they were finished with lunch, but it was the students’ choice. “I do know that adults were circling around talking to individual students that were sitting alone just to have conversations to engage with them. So I did observe that going on as well,” Corsones said. “But I think I will definitely speak to administration about that, and also to see what we can do and how we can approach it.”
Board adopts gender-neutral bathroom, homeless children policies
The board adopted a new policy requiring all single-occupancy bathrooms in the district to be designated gender neutral. The board also updated district policy recognizing its responsibility to identify homeless children and eliminate barriers to their “identification, enrollment, attendance or success in school.”
To assist in determining eligibility for services, the district will distribute a housing questionnaire to all students.