Tags Posts tagged with "School reopening plan"

School reopening plan

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Writer Stefanie Werner, right, and her mother, Diane. Photo from Stefanie Werner

By Stefanie Werner

My mother, Diane Werner, was by far the most influential person in my life. She was a teacher for more than 30 years, most of which was spent in the social studies wing of Ward Melville High School and was the inspiration behind my career choices. During her tenure in Three Village she was a highly respected educator and mentor with a passionate nature that empowered even the most resistant student to not only show up for class, but more importantly, achieve to the best of his or her abilities. Her sudden death only five years into her retirement produced an immense outpouring of love and compassion that exemplified how much she meant to her students and the community at large.

Fast forward 14 years and we find ourselves at a crossroads in the Three Village community. In these unprecedented times, my mother’s voice echoes in my head a trillion times a day. I hear her telling me to fight for what I believe in, to advocate for my child and to use my voice to defend that which I believe to be just. As we debate the guidelines for our return to school in September, I wish that my mother was here to add her two cents —more like twenty — to the on-going deliberations. She would be confounded by the dissension that has arisen in the community regarding the safety protocols required for our school reopening plan. Her mind would be awhirl with thoughts of how parents, teachers and community members should be united in this cause, creating a universal practice, not drowning in a “you do you, I’ll do me” mindset. Mrs. Werner would be feverishly scribbling lesson plans in her college-ruled spiral notebook, all the while remaining vigilant in her pursuit to educate her students despite the nonsensical squabbling of parents over mask mandates and plastic shields. Social distancing and face shields would be no match for the force that was Diane Werner at the head of a classroom, and no one would be more determined to keep kids safe and learning.

Although most of the old guard is gone from the halls of Ward Melville High School, many of my mom’s former students are now parents in this district. A handful of her former colleagues are now administrators making the most important decisions that have ever confronted Three Village Central School District. Nineteen years may have passed since Diane Werner blissfully strolled into the sweet land of retirement, but she left behind a legacy of strength and determination the likes of which this district needs to channel right now. The students of this community, including the grandchild my mother never met, deserve a comprehensive, rock-solid plan that exemplifies the need for a safe and secure learning environment during this global pandemic. In her day there would have been no flip-flopping on mask enforcement, and no questions left dangling at board of education or district meetings. Of course, she would have appreciated the debate, she did teach You and the Law and Mock Trials after all, but in the end, the result would be the same. Mrs. Werner would pull on her orange mask (her favorite color), walk into room 239 (her footsteps were distinct), make sure that every desk was 6 feet apart and students were masked, sign-in to Google Classroom (although she preferred chalk) and rock this place like nobody’s business. I am my mother’s daughter, and I will accept nothing less than 100% for mine. And mom would have given nothing less for yours. Miss you mommy!

Stefanie Werner is a mother, teacher and social worker. She is a lifelong resident of the Three Village community and a graduate of SUNY Oneonta, Long Island University and Stony Brook University.

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Administrators say remote option will be available, students to wear masks all day

File photo

By Andrea Paldy

On Aug. 12, the Three Village Central School District held the first of three state-mandated information sessions about how it will address coronavirus-related concerns for the upcoming school year. During the live, 2 1/2 hour YouTube video stream, members of the district administration answered previously emailed questions about the fall reopening.

“We want it to not just be safe. We want people to feel safe, as well — students, their parents and our staff.”

— Jeff Carlson

Three Village, which earlier had announced its plan to fully reopen for in-person classes in September, announced during the session that it will also offer a fully remote option to families uncomfortable with sending their children back to school, or who have medical reasons for keeping their children at home.

Questions from parents last Wednesday centered on how the district would ensure student safety. Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said that the district will follow recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in taking a “more conservative” approach toward masks. Students and staff will be required to wear masks “even when physical distance can be achieved,” she said.

In addition to lunchtime and 10-minute mask breaks, students will not be required to wear masks during outdoor recess, which will be staggered to help maintain cohort groupings and social distance. Pedisich said the district would reevaluate the plan as the year goes forward.

Each building will have extra masks for students or staff who don’t have them or whose masks are lost or damaged throughout the day, officials said.

Classrooms, learning spaces and lunchrooms will be reconfigured so that students can be at least 6 feet apart, Pedisich said. Additionally, said Jeff Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, during the discussion about facilities, clear shields will be mounted to elementary school desks, while secondary students will be given portable, collapsible shields to take to each class and to and from their homes.

Carlson also said that areas such as auditoriums, secondary cafeterias, libraries and music rooms will be equipped with high efficiency MERV-13 filters, while classrooms will have unit ventilators that will circulate fresh air into the spaces.

High touch areas such as lunch tables, school bus seats, doorknobs, stair rails and bathrooms will be cleaned throughout the day, in addition to thorough cleanings at night, he said. There will also be spray cleaners in classrooms to wipe down desks as needed, though Carlson said parents might want to send sandwich bags with disinfectant wipes to school with their secondary students.

“We want it to not just be safe,” he said. “We want people to feel safe, as well — students, their parents and our staff.”

While administrators expect the average elementary class size to decrease from 18 students once some parents opt out of the in-person plan, the district is working to reduce secondary class sizes to ensure social distancing. It is also planning to adjust schedules, with students changing classes at different times to reduce hallway congestion.

The plan, Carlson said, is to use reserves to hire more teachers to cover additional class sections as well as additional custodial staff.

The district also outlined additional measures to direct student traffic and encourage social distancing. They will include the placement of signs, tape, stickers and cones and other markers, as well as the creation of videos that deliver hygiene messages.

While all secondary students currently have Chromebooks, the district is expanding the initiative to include all elementary students. This decision will limit the amount of supplies students will need at school, since students will not be allowed to use cubbies, closet hooks or lockers for their personal items, officials said.

“We are working very hard to make sure that all students and their families feel that they are getting a substantial and quality educational opportunity.”

— Cheryl Pedisich

Gary Dabrusky, assistant superintendent for human resources, went over health protocols, saying that parents and staff will be able to use an app to record daily health screenings, which will include temperature and other symptom checks, each morning before school. He added that students or staff who begin to show symptoms during the day would be moved discreetly — to maintain privacy — to an isolated area where a nurse would be able to assess their condition.

The district will follow state Department of Health protocols when it comes to contact tracing and assist officials by keeping accurate attendance records, schedules and logs of visitors, who will be limited to vendors performing essential or emergency facilities-related tasks, Dabrusky said.

Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services, discussed academics and remote instruction. Whether students choose remote rather than in-person instruction, or all students end up on a remote plan, because of school closure, instruction will be “real-time teacher facilitated,” he said. It means that students will receive live instruction. Students choosing the remote option at the secondary level will follow their regular class schedule and log into live classes and interact with their teachers and classmates from home.

At the elementary level, specific teachers will be assigned to teach in-person classes, while others will be assigned to remote students, Scanlon said.

The deadline for the district’s most recent parent survey, which polls parents regarding choices of in-person return, hybrid or remote instruction, is Aug. 21. While parents have until the first day of school to change their minds, Scanlon said that it is “critical” that they get their choices in as soon as possible so that the district can staff and balance classes and get schedules to students.

Pedisich said that families who choose the fully remote option can change to in-person instruction at the beginning of the second or third trimester for elementary school, or the beginning of the second semester for secondary school. In-person students can switch to remote at any time.

“We want parents to understand that choosing a remote option for their child is not giving their child any less of an education at any level,” she said. “We are working very hard to make sure that all students and their families feel that they are getting a substantial and quality educational opportunity.”

The superintendent also emphasized that the district’s plans are “fluid” and could
still change.

“We are willing to make those adaptations to make it as safe as we possibly can,” she said.

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More than 200 Smithtown school district parents and students made it clear that they want children in school five days a week.

On Aug. 11, members of the Facebook page Open Up Branch Brook & Nesconset El!!!! rallied outside of the district’s administration office on Main Street to call for five full days of school when classes start in fall. The group first protested on the site Aug. 5, and Tuesday’s event was held before the board of education’s meeting set for the same evening.

The families are asking for the district’s vacant Branch Brook and Nesconset elementary school buildings to be opened up once again in order for students to attend school five days a week in person starting in September. Currently, Smithtown students will return to school following a hybrid model where they will have in person instruction two or three days a week and the other days learn remotely. 

During the protest, attendees shouted “five full days,” as an overwhelming amount of passing drivers honked their horns and gave the protesters the thumbs up. Some drivers even slowed down to cheer them on or read the signs.

Stacy Murphy, one of the organizers of the Facebook page, said members of the group submitted questions for that night’s BOE meeting. Many in attendance were disappointed that the public was unable to attend even though 50 or less is legally allowed under state COVID-19 guidelines. The meeting was instead viewed via live stream.

Murphy said parents have not been receiving answers to their emails recently and have been directed to the district’s website.

“We want to know the answers,” Murphy said.  “We want to be heard. We are tired of our voices being stifled.”

Jennifer Cuomo said many feel the BOE abandoned a plan to have children in school five days a week and is not doing their job in educating their children. She added she believes they haven’t presented a good reason to not go back five days.

“We have empty buildings,” she said. “We have extra money in the budget. The answers they are giving just aren’t satisfactory.”

Cuomo and Murphy said they believe in keeping the full-time remote option for those who don’t want their children to be in a brick and mortar setting.

“Hybrid is not safer,” Cuomo said. “What it is is equal to less days of education. When the kids are home they don’t have live learning. It’s asynchronous learning. Asynchronous learning does not work. We are not teachers at home.”

She added that many parents who are teachers will be returning to work soon, some five days a week in physical classrooms.

“So who’s supposed to be with these children helping them with their schoolwork,” Cuomo said.

Before entering the BOE meeting, board President Matthew Gribbin stopped to hear parents’ concerns. One parent said that he and his wife both work and aren’t able to stay home with their child, which would mean an additional $800 in childcare costs for the family.

When the idea to open up the two vacant buildings came up during the live streaming of the BOE meeting, parents were told to reference the district’s FAQ page where it is stated that if both schools were reopened, and district students were spread out throughout the two schools and currently opened buildings, there will still not be enough room to enforce social distancing of elementary school students.

Murphy said after the meeting that the BOE members have not produced the data to support the claim after parents have asked in emails and board meetings and some parents have even issued Freedom of Information Law requests to get their hands on the information.

“They have no idea if the kids would fit because they don’t even know who isn’t returning, who is keeping their kids home or who is withdrawing their kids to private schools,” she said, adding the survey to cultivate the info was only made available Aug. 12.

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Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

The Three Village Central School District is considering additional feedback from parents on how the new school year will look.

In a letter dated Aug. 2, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said while recommended plans submitted to the state July 31 called for Three Village schools to open in-person Monday through Friday, after feedback from parents it was decided that a new parent survey would be offered “to gain a benchmark understanding of how many families would be interested in a potential remote learning option for students.” The option would be in addition to the proposed plan and would be subject to the approval of the New York State Education Department and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

The first reopening survey sent to parents and guardians was fielded between July 10 and 17. The district received 2,328 responses, which is a 66 percent response rate. Out of the 2,328 anonymous respondents who represent 3,734 students, 22 percent said they would be extremely comfortable with students returning to schools, 30 percent comfortable, 19 percent neither, 17 percent uncomfortable and 12 percent extremely uncomfortable. The survey also asked parents other questions including how they felt their children handled remote learning the last few months of the 2019-20 academic year, how they were doing emotionally and if parents worked in or out of the home. Out of the families who responded, 49 percent said all caregivers work outside of the home, 34 percent responded at least one person worked from home and at least 17 percent indicated that one will be home and not working.

“As has been said throughout this process, there is no one-sized-fits-all plan to resume instruction this fall and many uncertainties still remain, as the ultimate decision on how, when, and, if schools reopen in September will be rendered by Governor Cuomo this week,” Pedisich wrote in the Aug. 2 letter.

She added in the letter the goal of the proposed reopening plan was to develop one “that is both educationally sound and safe for our families and staff — and that process continues to be a fluid one, as there are many external factors that will contribute to our ability to resume full in-person instruction as planned.”

Pedisich recognized that families face different circumstances as far as their comfort level with students returning to school, especially for those with immunocompromised family members

When the recommended reopening plan, that would require students, teachers and staff to report to school Monday through Friday was unveiled July 31, the district, which has almost 6,000 students, received criticism from a large number of parents.

Those opposed to a five-day, in-person plan created the Facebook page 3V in Support of Remote Learning. At press time, the group had nearly 300 members. Some have suggested asynchronous learning where teachers record lessons for students to watch when they can. Others have pointed toward neighboring school district, Smithtown Central, where a hybrid model is being proposed where 50 percent of students will attend school Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday and alternate Wednesdays. There is also a remote option being offered at Smithtown.

Parents have also expressed concern that while facial coverings will be recommended at Three Village schools they will not be mandatory in the classrooms whenever there is six-foot distancing.

To come up with the proposed plan, the Three Village Board of Education commissioned a Governance School Reopening Task Force and affiliates subcommittees, which included 107 individuals, and in addition to parent/guardian surveys also sent one out to staff members.

Among the changes to be made for the new school year are classroom layouts that allow a minimum of 6 feet distancing; classrooms and other spaces being cleared of any additional items to allow for greater distancing; markers and signage being used for visual distancing cues; and plastic separators for use in cafeterias, speech pathology, occupational therapy and physical therapy.

Steps are also being taken to instruct staff members on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of the virus and what to do to isolate a person if it’s believed they are sick.

“The district will proceed with the understanding that planning for schools to reopen is not a one-time event,” the reopening plan read. “We will continuously monitor the situation and provide updated guidance, policies and regulatory changes as the situation requires.”

The school district’s reopening plan can be viewed at www.threevillagecsd.org.