CATSKILL — More than 100 community members tuned into a meeting about the Catskill Central School District’s reopening plan Thursday when Superintendent Ronel Cook tried to circumvent some unruly and hateful comments.
Cook presented the district’s plan, which it submitted to the state Education Department on Friday for about 40 minutes before turning the floor over to the public for comments.
In the last few minutes of the meeting, Leah Chan tried to ask Cook a question but a male voice interrupted her.
“Yeah n***** yeah, get that fried chicken,” the caller said.
“Can we please mute this person,” Cook said.
Chan introduced herself and tried to speak but was interrupted again.
“Ching chong ching chong go f*** yourself n*****,” the caller said.
Cook encouraged Chan to continue.
The male caller again spoke over her.
“So guys what she was saying is could you kill all the f****** n******.”
Cook asked business administrator Joseph Jimick to mute everyone on the call.
“We’re going to have to end this if people are acting inappropriately,” he said.
After struggling to regain control of the meeting, Cook apologized, saying they would have to end the meeting.
“Yeah because our n***** is useless,” the caller interjected.
The matter is under investigation, Cook said Friday.
“Several derogatory comments were made and local law enforcement is investigating the matter,” he said. “I thank the different agencies in advance for their due diligence regarding this matter.”
The Catskill Police Department is the lead agency on the case, Lt. Ronald Frascello said, and is working with the State Police Computer Crimes Unit, the Greene County Sheriff’s Office and the Greene County District Attorney’s Office.
Police are working to trace the caller and criminal charges are pending, Frascello said. What the individual is charged with will be determined by the district attorney, Frascello said.
Cook has been a vocal advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement in the Catskill community.
“As a man of color, I think it’s very important,” Cook said at Catskill’s march on June 4. “I live this every day. Many of you live this every day. It’s time. It’s time that we hold our government officials accountable. Each and every person that runs for office for change in policy, change in tactics, cultural diversity training, the list goes on.
Educating youth is also important, Cook said.
“It’s important we teach our children because they’re going pick up the torch and carry it and move it along,” he said. “To treat people with love, respect, at all times to respect diversity, to respect one another no matter who you are. It’s very important that we teach the next generation in the right way.”
Cook also incorporated this sentiment into his commencement speech for graduation.
“There is an outcry in our country against institutionalized racism, discrimination and equal rights,” he said. “The murder of Mr. Floyd and others before him is despicable and unacceptable. There needs to be a change in government policy and police tactics.
“I implore you to treat all people with respect and to embrace the differences that exist amongst you. I also encourage you to study other cultures, traditions and travel abroad. The world has so much, but you need to be receptive to the offerings.”
The district’s plan includes options for a hybrid and 100% virtual learning model. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to make his decision Aug. 7 about reopening schools.
“His determination will be based on infection rate,” Cook said, adding that regions where the rate is higher than 9% will not be permitted to reopen their schools.
Cook’s recommendation, which is subject to change depending on the governor’s decision, is to reopen the school in phases.
“This is a marathon, not a race,” Cook said. “I don’t believe in experimenting with your children.”
The district would start remote instruction for all students Sept. 14, Cook said. Videos demonstrating the new procedures at the school, should the parents opt for the hybrid model, will be distributed.
“Temperature checks will be performed prior to students getting on the bus,” he said. “If it’s over 100, they’re going to have to remain home with a parent, otherwise it will jeopardize the health of the other students on the bus.”
Beginning Oct. 13, students with specialized learning plans can opt for the hybrid, which would entail two days for in-person instruction and three days of remote learning, Cook said.
Students will be broken up into two groups: Group A and Group B, Cook said. Efforts will be made to ensure that siblings are placed in the same group.
The district will be using an outside contractor to deep-clean the building on Wednesdays and Saturdays, Cook said.
“So when Group A exits on Tuesday, the cleaning crew comes in before the next group comes in,” he said.
A student’s learning model cannot be changed mid-semester, Cook said.
The third phase would begin Feb. 1, and would open up the hybrid model to all students who wished to participate.
“We cannot return to 100% in-person instruction,” Cook said. “We don’t have enough space to bring all of students and staff back.”
The district is looking into purchasing tents so students can eat lunch outside and socially distance themselves, and plexiglass barriers for desks, Cook said.
The district has stocked up on personal protective equipment including 16,600 masks with an order placed for another 52,000, 16,000 gloves, 150 gallons of hand sanitizer and 800 wipes, Cook said.
The district surveyed 929 parents and 263 staff members about reopening the school.
“The majority of staff chose in-person instruction, followed by the hybrid model,” Cook said.
In-person instruction also led the way for parents at 41%, with 33% in support of hybrid learning.
When parents were asked if they would be comfortable sending their children to school for either 100% in-person instruction or a hybrid model, 55% said yes, 17% said no and 28% said they were unsure.
The district has also drafted changes to the school’s code of conduct, which include subjecting students, faculty and visitors to temperature checks, health screening questionnaires, requiring face masks, hand washing and social-distancing.
When parents were asked if they would be comfortable with a staff member taking their child’s temperature, 88% said they were not concerned with the temperature check.
Regarding the face-mask requirement, 48% of parents said they were concerned about their child being required to wear a mask and 52% said no.
Of the responding parents, 54% identified that a member of their family was considered “high-risk.”
The district will review the procedures with families once the governor has made a decision, Cook said, adding that it is a working document.
Those in violation of the procedures will be considered insubordinate, Cook said.
Staff in violation of the procedures will be subject to disciplinary measures, leading up to termination, he said.
“I don’t foresee us needing law enforcement to enforce these procedures,” he said, adding that the Catskill Police Department is a short distance away.
There will be a public hearing on the proposed procedures on Aug. 19.