It’s encouraging to think that the new school year promises full classrooms, teachers instructing students face to face (or perhaps in face masks) and the end, at least for now, of remote learning. But we should not let this optimism overshadow the real possibility that the school year will open in confusion.
Local schools are seeking more COVID guidance from the state before classes resume in the fall. Schools finished off a year in which they faced changing schedules, balancing in-person and virtual classes and dealing with masks, social distancing and a host of other pandemic-related protocols. Educators are using the summer to preview what next fall will look like. For it to come close to normal, the state needs to get its act together and offer a coherent strategy.
Questar III BOCES District Superintendent Gladys I. Cruz got the ball rolling Friday in a letter to state Department of Health Director Dr. Howard Zucker asking for guidance from the state so schools can plan ahead. Supporting Cruz were all six Columbia County school district superintendents, Columbia County Department of Health Director Jack Mabb and several state representatives.
Planning for a nine-month, 180-day school year takes time and preparation. The sooner schools know what guidance they have to follow, the sooner they can plan for the fall semester.
Guidance from last school year allowed many, but not all, students to return to in-person learning. Another uneven protocol involves school buses. Cruz asked the state to allow normal bus capacities to return to their pre-COVID levels. Schools can’t return all students to school based on last year’s bus guidance. Cruz wants the state to avoid the “choose your own guidance” protocol so there is consistency among all schools.
It’s not surprising that as of Tuesday, Cruz had not received a response to the letter from Zucker or the state Department of Health.
All local school districts are racing against time. It’s mid-July, with just a little more than six weeks to Labor Day and the opening day of school. Educators face many logistical problems as they prepare for the fall. Transportation is just one of them. Students have to know if they are going to wear masks, if social distancing will be required, will remote learning remain a viable option if COVID returns.
School districts need the state to propose consistent guidelines and clear information as soon as possible so educators can start to plan.