The future of education in the wake of COVID-19 remains uncertain.
The state’s ReImagine Education Committee surveyed nearly 60,000 parents, teachers and administrators on what they believe post-COVID classrooms should look like. Gov. Andrew Cuomo first closed schools on March 18 and announced that schools would be closed for the duration of the academic year on May 1. On June 5, Cuomo signed an executive order permitting in-person special education services. School districts in the twin counties are also having these conversations.
The Catskill Central School District held a virtual meeting to discuss reopening, Superintendent Ronel Cook said.
“The conversations focused on social-emotional support needed for students and staff, PPE, daily sanitizing of the buildings, scheduling, transportation,” Cook said. “Many ideas were shared and questions were posed and answered. We are creating several options on how students will receive support and continued learning in the fall.
Some of the options included traditional face to face instruction, an A/B schedule, virtual and/or blended instruction.
The district also discussed social distancing, providing PPE, temperature checks and around the clock sanitizing, Cook said.
In-person education is irreplaceable, Cook said.
“Nothing can replace in-person instruction,” he said. “Our students thrive through socialization and interacting with their peers. Many of our students have lost that competitive drive.”
A ThoughtExchange survey was provided to stakeholder groups throughout 37 BOCES across the state. One of the common themes from the results of the survey was that “in-person instruction is very important and we need to figure out a way to make this happen safely and as quickly as possible.”
What will happen in fall 2020 remains unclear for school districts, Cook said.
“The governor has not made a decision on whether we will return in the fall,” he said. “Nevertheless, he wants schools to submit their reopening plans in July. Our next Reopening of Schools virtual meeting is scheduled for June 25 at 1 p.m. Additional meetings will be scheduled in July and August.”
Developing a plan to reopen is a work in progress, Hudson City School District Superintendent Maria Suttmeier said.
“I can’t tell you exactly what it’s going to look like in September,” she said.
Suttmeier was nominated to serve on a Regional School Reopening Task Force, which will have its first meeting on Monday. Suttmeier will be on the teaching and learning breakout session, she said.
“[The task force] gives us a voice at the state level as to what guidelines schools should have,” Suttmeier said. “Then we can customize them at a local level. For example, if they have social distancing requirements in common areas, what does that look like in Hudson? How do we make changes like that operational here?”
Another level to pre-COVID classrooms is educating students on precautions, especially for younger students, Suttmeier said.
“There is the training piece,” she said. “Especially for our younger students, teaching them about personal hygiene and wearing PPE if that’s required.”
Despite the changes that may be in store, having in-person instruction is key, Suttmeier said.
“It’s invaluable,” she said. “Nothing replaces it. Having in-person instruction develops children’s social and emotional well being. You don’t really get that across a screen. You’re missing the heartbeat of education.”
Suttmeier commended her staff for making the transition to virtual classrooms this spring.
“Our teachers did a fabulous job on very little notice,” she said. “It’s not something I’d like to see forever into the future.”
Hudson will begin holding districtwide reopening meetings for students, parents and staff the week of June 29.
Meeting educational needs while keeping students and teachers safe is a priority, New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said in a statement.
“While we know that there is no substitute for in-person instruction, health and safety must continue to be at the forefront of decisions surrounding reopening,” Pallotta said. “Social distancing, availability of PPE and protocols for dealing with sick students and staff are just a few critical considerations school districts and the state must take into account.
“Local decision-making also will be important to ensure each community’s unique needs are met, and local educators must be an essential part of that process. What’s more, safely reopening can only happen if substantial resources are made available to fund new health requirements. Reopening will take the entire school community working together. Educators are here to play our part.”
Classes at Columbia-Greene Community College will be online for the fall semester.
Some classes that require hands-on learning, such as nursing, construction, science labs and art, will resume in-person lessons, College President Carlee Drummer said, adding that the college will need to be mindful of social distancing requirements.