Schools prepare for reopening

Mark Gutman/Daily News File Photo A classroom is seen at Le Roy Junior-Senior High School this spring while the school was closed to in-classroom learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Districts are working on reopening plans.

Terah Stark, the mother of two teenage boys enrolled in Albion, wants to see children receive in-person learning.

“They need to reopen, and they need to go back. The kids miss it,” said Stark, who moved into the district last year and said her children “are still kind of new kids and we’re just getting our feet wet.”

Stark said they, like many parents, struggled to find the balance btween juggling full- or part-time jobs while enforcing some instructions for their children who we learning virtually from home.

“It was stressful from March to June to get everything done with us having to work,” Stark said, joking that her sons think “we are mean teachers.”

“But honest,” she said, “we aren’t okay with doing it again. We are too busy; we can’t be teachers, too.”

Parents in the GLOW region are beginning to know, in theory, what their school reopenings will look like.

Some districts desire a return to in-person instruction five days a week, while others have presented plans in what they call a “hybrid model” that combines virtual and in-person instruction.

Some of the schools have set start dates for the fall, though others said an opening date will depend on what the state decided.

All the superintendents contacted for this story acknowledge that their reopening plans could change as information and guidance to schools change and that the final decision lies with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“Our plan is a living document and will be updated to reflect the changes and systems that are required to implement the plan,” said Elba Central School Superintendent Ned Dale.

Cuomo is expected to announce a decision on the reopening of schools between now and Aug. 7.

School districts throughout Genesee, Orleans, Wyoming and Livingston counties have filed their plans – which were due by Friday – for reopening. Those plans are generally available on district websites.

Assuming nothing dramatic occurs — namely a sudden upswing in COVID-19 infection rates — students, parents and teachers can expect the following from this sample of district reopening plans:

Genesee County

n Alexander Central School — Superintendent Catherine Huber said the district intends to use a hybrid model combining virtual and in-person instruction. Students in pre-k through fifth grade would have virtual learning on Wednesdays and in-person classes the other four days.

BOCES students would go to BOCES on Monday and Tuesday, have virtual learning on Wednesdays and in-person learning Thursdays and Fridays. Students in sixth through eighth grade would have in-person learning Mondays and Tuesdays and virtual learning the rest of the week. For high school students, the schedule includes virtual learning Mondays through Wednesdays and in-person learning the rest of the week.

Special education students and English Language Learners (ELL) would have virtual learning Wednesdays and in-person learning the rest of the week, according to the plan.

“We believe that this model provides a healthy balance for learning and for our families in terms of scheduling. This model provides flexibility as well,” the district said in the plan. “If the public health conditions allow, we may be able to bring more students back for in-person instruction.”

Daily temperature checks are required for staff, students and approved visitors.

“Temperature checks will be performed prior to staff, students and approved visitors entering District facilities or district transportation to the greatest extent practicable,” the plan states. “Prior to utilizing any thermometer, operators should review product-specific directions.”

Parents and guardians will have access to the video, “It’s All About thermometers,” the district says in the plan. “Staff, students and approved visitors are strongly encouraged to complete temperature screenings at home. The school nurses will train staff on the appropriate use of infrared thermometers,” the plan stated.

“Trained staff conducting temperature screenings will use no-touch, infrared thermometers; wear a face covering; wear gloves; and perform a visual inspection of an individual prior to conducting a temperature screening.”

Those who are unable to complete temperature screenings at home must participate in screenings prior to entering district facilities or district transportation. People will maintain social distance while waiting for their temperature screening.

n Elba Central School — Superintendent Ned Dale said the district’s Reopening Committee supported and agreed with Elba’s more than-80-page plan at a final meeting Thursday. The district plans to start school Sept. 8.

“We will be using a hybrid approach for K-12. All of our assigned classrooms will be in use for some portion of the day. I would estimate our average class size would be 15-18 students per class,” Dale said.

Dale said 18.2% of the district’s parents indicated in a survey that they will not be sending their child to school.

“Our goal is to share our plan and communicate with all families to decrease their concerns. Student and staff safety are my No. 1 priority,” he said. “We will be distributing our Chromebooks again this fall for all students. We are currently assessing our bandwidth and reviewing survey results from parents that indicated their access to wifi. In some cases, we believe we will need to provide paper materials, as some areas of our district are unable to access any internet service.”

On transportation, Dale said, “An assessment of who will be riding a bus will be conducted shortly so that we can adjust routes and ensure all students can safely get to school. Students that are enrolled in the SFA program will be provided meals on days that they will not be here. Systems are currently being looked to ensure students have the necessary nutrition.”

n Le Roy Junior-Senior High School — The district posted its 62-page plan and video to its website on Friday. The video, according to Superintendent Merrit Holly, “explains the process of creating our plans and the rationale behind why we are going with the hybrid plan model.”

“The hybrid plan model offers parental choice,” Holly said.

The district has proposed offering an in-person instruction for two days a week. Students will be scheduled for either a Monday or Tuesday or a Thursday and Friday in-class schedule, with remote instruction the additional three days. The district plans to group siblings together, Holly said.

For parents who don’t feel comfortable sending their children to school, the district will offer full remote instruction for five days a week.

Additional information on the plans is available on the district’s website, which also includes a document for parents or guardians to complete by Aug. 7 that serves as a registration form that ask parents which learning option they would choose, whether they have internet access, and whether they would need transportation for the student.

Under transportation, students would be require to maintain six feet of social distancing and wear masks.

“As you can imagine, we are very limited on our seat capacity on our buses,” Holly said in an automated call to parents on Friday afternoon. “Parents, I’m asking for your help.”

n Oakfield-Alabama — Superintendent John Fisgus said the district is planning to have all students in the classroom this fall for in-person learning.

“OA is in a lucky spot that we can social distance our students while in the classrooms so they can remove their masks during instruction time,” Fisgus said.

Fisgus said the district will use two additional superintendent conference days at the start of the year.

“We delayed our start date for students until Friday, Sept. 11, for extra training and guidance for our staff before the students return,” he said.

Before reopening the school buildings, administrators will consult the most recent federal guidance for school programs, including ongoing mitigation strategies, as well as prevention, support, and communication resources.

n Pavilion Central School — Superintendent Kenneth Ellison said the district’s plan is finished, but that changes will be made as new information becomes available.

“Final logistics will wait until the governor makes a decision regarding our return options,” he said.

“The challenges included a tremendous volume of information required on topics related to specific health concerns and an extraordinarily short turnaround time,” the superintendent said.

Ellison said the first day of school may be adjusted by moving conference days to the start of the calendar to aid in planning. In-person learning versus virtual learning scenarios are still under review.

Asked if the district is working with parents who might not want to send their kids to school out of COVID-19 concerns, Ellison said, “We will send a survey in early August once we know what options are actually available so parents can make an informed decision on this matter.

“As you can imagine, the issue of underserved and unserved homes in terms of broadband access is a real problem in rural areas,” he said. “We are currently exploring options to address this problem.”

ORLEANS COUNTY

n Albion Central School — The district has proposed offering in-person learning for students in kindergarten through sixth grades, and hybrid instruction for grades seven to 12. The hybrid model will have in-person instruction no more than two days per week.

Jenoveve and Mwangi Thoms of Albion, parents of two children, said tey were looking forward to students returning to school.

“I’m not concerned at all as long as the school takes the simple precautions they are supposed to take,” said Jenoveve. “I don’t think they should be sharing anything. We do not want to do virtual learning again.”

n Holley Central School — Superintendent Brian Bartalo called preparation of the plan a “monumental task” but said the district got it done on time. It’s been posted on the district’s website, Facebook and Twitter and Bartalo said he sent a link to parents Friday.

“First day (for students) is projected to be Sept. 9 or 10, depending on our plan. We have plans for both in-person as well as remote learning,” he said, adding the amount of in-person learning in the fall depends on Cuomo’s decision on whether schools can open.

Asked how many students will be in a classroom under social distancing rules, Bartalo said, “This varies as classrooms are differently sized in each of our buildings and class enrollments also varies in grade levels and different courses.”

The superintendent said initial polling showed that about 5 percent of the district would prefer all remote learning.

“However, we are sending out a notice to families soon to get a final count and an official word, so we can plan accordingly,” he said. “We will ensure that every child has access to technology, so that home learning can occur. We were able to accomplish this in the spring as well.”

Details on the length of the school day, transportation and meals for students will vary based on whether Holley is in-person or remote.

“If in-person, our day will basically look the same in terms of times and schedules,” he said. “There are social distance and mask rules for buses, which will limit how many children can ride a bus. We are asking parents if they are in need of district transportation or will provide their own, so that we have an accurate count to plan routes and bus schedules. We will be providing breakfast and lunch daily for all students, regardless of being in-person or remote.”

n Kendall Central School — Superintendent Julie Christensen said the district’s reopening plan was submitted to the state and posted on the district website Friday. Aspects of the plan may change with further guidance or direction from the state Department Of Health, state education department or Cuomo.

“The main challenge is the multiple requirements for PPE (personal protective equipment) and the cost and availability for these items,” Christensen said.

Kendall’s first day for students is planned for Sept. 8.

“All students have the option of coming to school PK-12 all day every day adhering to DOH requirements or engage in remote instruction,” she said. “All classrooms will be used and student desks will adhere to the 6 feet of social distancing. Class sizes vary from 12 to 20 depending on space.”

Christensen said about 10 percent of parents have indicated their child will engage in remote instruction.

“All students K-12 have a district-issued device ... Based on parent feedback, resources for remote learners will be on a Google Suite Platform and training will occur for staff, students and parents to increase their capacity and knowledge. We used digital planners last year for many grades/subjects,” she said.

There will be no change in school day length, Christensen said.

Transportation requests are due today, Christensen said, “to ensure balanced and safe routes.”

Meals will be provided to remote learners daily with pickup at the Junior/Senior High School. Students in person will eat lunch in the café or overflow spaces to allow for social distancing, she said.

n Lyndonville Central School — A district survey of 550 family members, caregivers and staff found 66 percent responding that they preferred some version of in-person learning in the fall. They also wanted the district to implement use of hand sanitizer in classrooms and common areas, wearing masks when not able to social distance, no sharing of resources and limited hallway travel.

Superintendent Jason Smith said the district’s re-opening plan takes the approach of having all students had back to school full time, five days per week. The district will also offer the option of complete virtual instruction for students. Parents are being asked to decide by Aug. 14.

Among other parts of the district’s plan: protective barriers will be in place when possible, face coverings will be worn during passing times, health screenings will be required daily and students with a temperature of 100 degrees, have a new cough, respiratory distress, vomiting or shortness of breath will be asked to stay home.

“I think we had a diverse committee of parents and faculty and we tried to find a balance to safely meet everyone’s needs overall,” Smith said. “We want to proceed slowly and thoughtfully. This is new water we’re treading.”

Parent meetings are planned Aug. 12 and 13.

n Medina Central School — The district said Friday it will seek to provide in-person education every day to students in Pre-K through sixth grades, with students in grades seven through 12 attending school every other day and on alternating Friday with remote learning on the off days.

Students may also participate in complete virtual instruction.

Parents are being asked to review the school’s plan on its website, medinacsd.org, and complete a form by Aug. 14 addressing the comfort level with students attend school in person five days a week or virtually.

Wyoming County

n Attica Central School — The district has proposed an A/B schedule, in which students in group A would attend in-person classes on Monday, Wednesday and every other Friday, while group B would attend Tuesday, Thursday and every other Friday. Students with other family members in the district would be able to attend the same day, making it easier for parents to create a functioning schedule.

“It’s good they are limiting the days we are attending school because you don’t want the virus to spread more,” said Megan Fialkowski, a tenth grader at Attica who prefers in-person learning. “The bad part is we’ll be split into groups and we might not end up with some of our friends and that makes it more difficult to socialize.”

Groups will be assigned by mid-August, the district said, and additional protocols will be communicated by individual principals by Aug. 24.

Each student in kindergarten through second grade would be provided an iPad, while students in grade three through 12 would be provided a Chromebook.

“Factors such as classroom availability, staffing, enrollment and the number of buses needed to transport approximately 50 percent of our enrollment daily may cause a slight difference between school districts,” said Superintendent Bryce Thompson.

n Perry Central School — Superintendent Daryl McLaughlin said the district was required to submit three instructional models as part of its reopening plan: in-person, hybrid, and remote. As of Thursday, Perry was planning to proceed with five days of in-person instruction each week.

Among the components of the reopening plan are::

• Daily temperature checks are required for staff, students and approved visitors;

• Perry will maintain 6 feet between people as much as possible. When that’s not possible, individuals will have to use face coverings or protective barriers;

• Students, staff and approved visitors will use face coverings. The district will provide explicit instruction on appropriate times and locations for face covering breaks;

• Transportation: Perry will implement density reduction measures to ensure the safety of students and staff;

• Perry will use approved, light-transmitting, plastic barriers to ensure physical distancing in identified spaces;

• Detailed cleaning and disinfection protocols have been established for district facilities;

• All internal facility use requests are restricted to district-sponsored activities only;

• Perry has established on- and off-site procedures for meal distribution;

• Perry has altered its schedule to ensure the safety of students and staff, maximize instructional time, and accommodate individuals learning in the remote environment;

• Regulatory changes have created greater flexibility in the calculations of instructional minutes; and

• Perry will utilize its one-to-one technology to facilitate remote learning.

During the COVID-19 public health crisis, volunteers and visitors will be prohibited in district facilities.

Genesee Valley Educational Partnership

District Superintendent Kevin MacDonald and association Chairman and Pavilion Central School District Superintendent Kenneth Ellison gave a statement Thursday from the association. It was given on behalf of all the school districts in the Genesee Valley BOCES region: Alexander, Attica, Avon, Batavia, Byron-Bergen, Caledonia-Mumford, Dansville, Elba, Geneseo, Keshequa, Le Roy, Letchworth, Livonia, Mount Morris, Oakfield-Alabama, Pavilion, Pembroke, Perry, Warsaw, Wayland-Cohocton, Wyoming and York.

The association said when it met March 14, it couldn’t have predicted what the next several months would hold for its districts. But now it’s faced with a challenge that’s possibly even greater.

The association said every district aspires to open its doors to staff and students the week after Labor Day as it have always done, while acknowledging the challenges. They also cited a statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics the social, emotional and mental health importance of schools for children.

“We agree with the AAP that the ideal scenario for fall 2020 is to bring our students back to school. Yet, we know that the work of reopening is far more complex than opening the doors and operating our schools in a traditional manner. We need to consider the broader purpose served by public schools with regard to the intellectual, social, and emotional growth of our students,” the association said.

Includes reporting by staff writers Brian Quinn, Brendan McDonough and Kori Sciandra.

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