VALATIE — Officials in the Ichabod Crane School District on Wednesday unveiled the preliminary plan for the reopening of schools in September.
The plan includes full-time in-person instruction for students in kindergarten through grade 5, and a hybrid of remote and in-person learning for students in grades 6-12.
All schools statewide were closed to in-person instruction in the middle of March following an executive order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19. Schools are now developing plans to reopen in the fall.
Nearly 450 people attended a virtual telephone conference by the district outlining the preliminary reopening plan.
District Superintendent Suzanne Guntlow said about 80 administrators, teachers and others helped develop the plan, and some 900 parents responded to a district survey gauging how they would like the reopening to occur.
“Parents provided us with very valuable feedback on the spring, and gave us insight into what they are thinking about what they would like to see in the fall,” Guntlow said. “We really used that to help guide our decisions.”
The task force for the reopening process began working on the plan in June. The planning process was broken down into four main subcommittees — academics, health and safety, mental health and social-emotional wellness and operations and athletics.
Half of parents responding to the survey indicated they wanted students to return to in-person instruction, 25% wanted a hybrid format including both in-person and remote learning, with 13% preferring full-time learning at home, and 12% were undecided, Guntlow said.
Under the plan, students in primary school, up to grade 5, will attend full-time, in-person.
“The goal of the plan is to have all grades, kindergarten through grade 5, be in-person, with daily instruction,” primary school principal Andrea Williams said. “With the need to accommodate social distancing, we had to increase the number of sections in each grade level.”
“Special” classes such as art, music and physical education will still be provided.
Students in grades 6-12 would have a combination of in-person and remote instruction, with two groups created — an A group and a B group.
“We will have students in the building for two consecutive days,” middle school co-principal Anthony Marturano said. “Group A will come in Monday and Tuesday, and group B will come in Thursday and Friday.”
Wednesday will be used for cleaning the school buildings and having students work in virtual small groups from home, along with extra help for at-risk students.
On days when a student is not attending classes in person, the district is looking at three different options — streaming classes as they happen, airing pre-recorded classes online, or having students work independently with assistance from the teacher.
Alternating groups of students throughout the week will enable the schools to reduce their density inside the buildings by 50%, high school Principal Craig Shull said.
If the governor deems in-person classes too risky during the pandemic, the schools could shift to all online learning, Marturano said.
No matter the format of the classes, technology is expected to play a big role in the coming school year.
“One way or another, we are going to get technology into the hands of our students who need it,” Marturano said.
Each student in grades 3-12 will be given a Chromebook, which they will use both at home and in school.
School meals would also be reconfigured under the plan.
“We are looking to streamline things with the idea of safety and social distancing as much as possible,” business manager Michael Brennan said.
Breakfast will be served in “grab-and-go” style for all grade levels as soon as students get off the school bus in the morning. Lunches will be offered in a similar format, with students in kindergarten through grade 5 eating lunch in the classroom, grades 6-8 a combination of eating in their classroom and the cafeteria, and students in grades 9-12 will eat in the cafeteria at desks to encourage social distancing, Brennan said. All vending machines will be temporarily disabled.
The committee also offered recommendations on transportation and school buses.
“We are looking at masks on school buses at all times, and social distancing on the bus, with occupancy planned at 33-50% capacity, in assigned seating,” Brennan said.
Families will be asked to drive their student to school when possible to reduce the number of children on the bus, and family members will be asked to sit together. Parents and guardians will be asked to take students’ temperatures and monitor for symptoms prior to the student getting on the bus. Buses will also be cleaned between runs, Brennan said.
Parents will be asked to complete a transportation questionnaire to come up with the best plan for getting students to the school while maintaining social distancing protocols, Guntlow added.
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association will provide guidance on sports. The organization has its own task force and has determined that sports will be delayed until Sept. 21, when additional guidance will be provided by the governor’s office.
“The fall season has not been canceled; they have paused it until two weeks into the return to school,” Brennan said.
The fall regional state championships have already been canceled, he said.
The Health and Safety Committee came up with numerous protocols, including students and faculty being required to wear face masks or coverings.
“There will be designated mask breaks throughout the day when it is safe and appropriate,” high school Assistant Principal Marcella Sanchez said. “We will also be doing health checks, and parents and guardians will need to screen their children for fever and other signs and symptoms of COVID-19 prior to getting on the bus.”
Visitors to all school buildings will be “limited greatly,” Sanchez said.
Social distancing will be maintained, and additional school supplies will be available so there is no sharing of equipment. Restrooms will be cleaned throughout the day, Sanchez said.
“Any gatherings, events and assemblies, and field trips at this time have been canceled. We are going to revisit this probably in late September when we see how the reopening goes,” Sanchez said. “We are not canceling everything for good, but we don’t think it is prudent to have those events happening given our current situation.”
Directional signs in corridors will instruct students where to walk, and windows will be kept open as much as possible to increase ventilation.
Playgrounds will be open and recess will give students a break during the day.
“We have been advised that playgrounds are low risk because they are outside, so we will be building in recess for kids. We think that is essential to get them out of the classroom,” Guntlow said.
More information about the preliminary reopening plan for the Ichabod Crane Central School District is available on the district’s website: www.ichabodcrane.org.