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.

The state Education Department released guidance Monday detailing how New York’s 713 school districts can make plans to reopen. President Donald Trump is demanding all schools reopen, even in areas where COVID-19 is resurgent. New York is taking a far more prudent and sensible approach.

Schools could reopen in September in New York state regions in phase 4 with a COVID-19 infection rate under 5% over a 14-day average. Schools will close if a region’s infection rate surges above 9% over a seven-day average since Aug. 1. Districts will not resume in-person instruction if the virus spikes between Aug. 1 and the first day of classes. A 5% infection rate indicates the virus is under control.

Under the guidelines, each school district must submit plans to the state by July 31 detailing the social distancing, reduced capacity and other precautions administrators will take to resume in-classroom instruction and reduce the virus spread.

The New York State Education Department is scheduled to issue guidance today on what should be in the district’s re-opening plan. A portal is slated to open Friday for district’s to begin submitting the plans.

There is a lot of work to do before those plans are submitted.

Le Roy Central School District Merritt Holly, in reopending documents posted to the district’s website, said the challenge before districts to reopen their school buildings may be an even greater challenge then the one school’s faced when the ended in-classroom instruction in March.

To restart, districts will be looking at much more than classroom instruction.

New York’s Health and Education departments devised guidelines with 20 education officials as part of the state’s Reimagine Education Advisory Council for the past several weeks, including procedures for transportation, food service, after-school care and extracurricular activities, masks/PPE for students and staff, cohort structures, student screenings and daily temperature checks, disinfecting and school closures.

At a minimum, districts will have to address in their plans, such questions as:

n How to reopen school facilities to in-person instruction.

n How to monitor the health of students, faculty and staff.

n How to contain the potential transmission of the novel coronavirus responsible for COVID-19.

n How to close the school and in-person instruction in the event of widespread virus transmission.

If schools are allowed to reopen, schedules could be very different. Districts are looking at multiple options and what has been talked about in other states.

As an example, Le Roy’s district reopening committee is expected to consider such options as one where students attend one day a week, another in which 50 percent of the students attend two days a week and the other 50 percent attend the other two days, with teachers using the other day for planning or remote learning; or a mix of traditional and hybrid models – perhaps a traditional model for elementary school students and a remote-learning model for junior and senior high school students.

All of the decisions, Holly noted, must be made with the state’s health and safety guidelines in mind.

Check your own school district’s website for information and updates.

Trump bulled his way into this discussion with a demand that schools must reopen next semester and a threat to withhold federal aid if they don’t. That is appalling when so many state revenue streams have been reduced to a trickle. Equally unsuitable is his call to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to relax their own guidelines so children can go back to school.

Everyone wants to see schools reopen. But it has to be done safely. And that can be achieved by looking at the data.

This is simple as A-B-C: If the virus is under control, schools can reopen.

“We’re not going to use our children as the litmus test and we’re not going to put our children in a place where their health is endangered,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday. In other words, we will not gamble with our children’s lives.

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