New York State has asked school districts to come up with plans to reopen their schools, but based on state guidelines, reopening may be in a form some parents may disagree with, based on districts’ own surveys.
New York is requiring school districts submit reopening plans to the state by July 31. The state Education Department released new guidelines July 16 for school districts to help guide that decision making, though many such districts have already had committees established to help guide those plans.
The Education Department said schools will have to perform COVID screenings of staff and students, maximize social distancing and create methods for isolating sick students before being sent home. It suggests districts use additional space, whether that’s underutilized real estate or gymnasiums, as places for teaching.
Still, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has said students can come back for in-person learning if their region remains in Phase 4 of reopening with an infection rate below 5 percent on a 14-day average. Schools will close again if the region breaks a 9 percent infection rate after Aug. 1.
Though many school districts have sent surveys to parents asking what their plans for their children are, few have released their results so far. Those that have show some majority of parents want their kids back in the classroom come fall. Superintendent of the Hauppauge School District Dennis O’Hara said during a Newsday-hosted forum last week that among 2,300 respondents, 90 percent said they would like to see their children back in school.
The Comsewogue School District is one of the few to have publicly released the results of that survey, which show the majority of parents say they will be sending their kids back into school this fall.
The Comsewogue School District, which includes over 3,700 students, received 1,187 responses to its survey. The district reported almost 60 percent of respondents, or 699, would send their children to school; 181 said they would not; while 307 were still undecided.
In that survey, 361 parents said they would need childcare provided by the district.
“I think we have to get a plan in place that is comfortable for parents, but what is right for one family might not be right for another family,” said Comsewogue Superintendent Jennifer Quinn. “We’re going to give parents the opportunity to make the decision that’s best for them.”
Quinn added the district expects 80 percent of its students to come back for the fall semester. Finalized plans will reveal what can be done for the 20 percent whose parents decide not to send them back.
Comsewogue’s reopening committees were formed earlier in the spring and have met with the teachers unions and administrators. Those suggestions will circle back, and tentative plans will be presented to teachers at each building and then later to the community.
The district plans to host two Q&A sessions for parents of kids in grades K-6 July 27 at 7:30 p.m. and July 28 at 11 a.m. via Zoom. Information on joining these meetings can be found on the district’s website at www.comsewoguek12.ny.us. Comsewogue plans to host future meetings for grades 7-12. The district will announce when its final plan has been approved and finalized on the district’s website and social media before the end of the month.
“We’re trying to bring back as many kids as we can, as often as we can,” Quinn said.
What that will look like is still to be determined. The district can confirm that all special education and English-language leaner students will be back in school every day in the school week. Quinn said the district hopes they can bring elementary students back full time, though that is more circumspect for the higher grade levels. If the committee determines they cannot safely have all kids back in school full time, they will be put on an alternating A-day, B-day schedule.
“I don’t think it’s ideal, but we’re going to have to do the best we can,” the superintendent said.
For students who may have to continue learning online, at home, Quinn said there are renewed efforts to further develop distance learning, particularly with a heavier emphasis on interaction with fellow classmates and teachers.
Perhaps the most challenging conundrum is transportation. In the survey, a plurality of 42 percent of respondents said their children would take the bus, while 24 percent said they would take personal transportation, while 33 percent were still undecided.
Yet how a district can possibly work out a bus fleet that can maintain social distancing and get all kids to school on time will still be a major challenge. The district hopes that many more parents will personally transport their children.
“We really want our kids back for the first day of school,” Quinn said. “There’s an emotional component to this and the pandemic, with kids not being in school and not being with their friends and teachers … we’re confident if we can bring them back in small groups, we can meet their needs.”