ALBANY — State guidance was unveiled Thursday to help schools reopen in the fall in New York state.
In mid March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the closing of all schools in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, and learning was moved from the classroom to students’ homes as classes were held remotely. The shuttering of schools remained in place through the end of the 2019-20 school year.
The New York State Education Department on Thursday released guidance for schools as districts plan for resuming classes in September.
“The guidance disseminated to schools today accounts for the health and safety of our children, teachers and school personnel while encouraging equitable access to the services and resources necessary for a high-quality education,” Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa said in a statement Thursday.
The guidance came following four virtual meetings held by the Regional School Reopening Task Force, along with a student forum hosted by the Board of Regents and the state Department of Education.
Input for the guidance was gathered from discussions among hundreds of experts, parents, students, teachers, administrators, school board members and other stakeholders, according to the state Education Department.
The 145-page document released Thursday addresses issues of health and safety, facilities, transportation, school schedules, budgets and other components of reopening in the fall.
Maria Lagana Suttmeier, superintendent of the Hudson City School District, said district stakeholders have been meeting to plan for the fall reopening and the guidance released Thursday was not unexpected.
“We are reviewing it, but we have been meeting regularly in subcommittees,” Suttmeier said. “There are no big surprises in the guidelines. We are continuing to plan our reopening for the fall and will be reviewing them carefully to make sure that as we move forward, we adhere to the guidelines.”
Hudson schools will not have 100% in-person instruction in the fall, but will instead use a hybrid model of in-person and remote classes, Suttmeier said. The details are still being worked out.
The Catskill Central School District will review the document released by the state and is seeking input from the community to come up with its final plan for the fall, said District Superintendent Ronel Cook.
“The Catskill Central School District’s administration team will be reviewing the comprehensive document to ensure that all reopening plans are in compliance with the SED guidelines and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention),” Cook said. “The district recently uploaded reopening to school surveys onto our website for parents and staff to respond to. They will have access to the surveys until the end of business on Monday, July 20, 2020. The information from the surveys will be used to help create our plans.”
The district is also working with the Reopening of Schools Committee, which will hold its next virtual meeting July 23 at 1 p.m., Cook said. Results of the survey and draft plans are expected to be shared with the committee for feedback, and will then be posted on the district’s website and at the next board of education meeting July 29.
“As per past practice, the district intends to keep our stakeholders informed every step of the way,” Cook said. “The district is committed to meeting the needs of our students, staff and families during these uncertain times.”
Some of the guidance released by the State Education Department are safety measures implemented in most places — social distancing, required hand hygiene and the wearing of face masks or coverings.
But the guidance goes into detail on other issues, such as how space is utilized to promote social distancing, ventilation requirements to prevent the spread of virus droplets, and drills to prepare students for how to react in the event of an emergency. Districts will be required to follow regular school bus disinfection measures, and train students and staff on social distancing requirements on the bus and at bus stops, and how to exit the vehicle.
School districts are also required to develop plans for different reopening scenarios, which will be dependent on what is allowed by the state come September.
“Each school is required to have in-person, remote and hybrid plans in place so we can do whatever we are allowed to do. We won’t know until early August when the governor lets us know for sure,” Coxsackie-Athens District Superintendent Randall Squier said Friday. “In the meantime, we will have our plans ready by July 31.”
The Coxsackie-Athens district convened a task force that worked in May and June to develop the foundation of a plan as they awaited guidance from the state.
“We have been putting together basic frameworks for how it would look — remote or in person,” Squier said. “Next week we will have community conversations, virtually, that anyone can attend, to talk about what in-person and remote learning might look like, and in general health and safety, as a way to seek out as many ideas and thoughts as possible so we can formalize our plans with the board of education to have it ready in the fall.”
All districts face different challenges, but Coxsackie-Athens does have the space and class sizes to potentially bring all students back to campus in September, Squier said.
“We can comfortably social distance in our classrooms,” Squier said. “There are, of course, other layers [of requirements], but we are working hard to have a plan in place to keep everyone safe.”