Rochester City School District superintendent Lesli Myers-Small, after saying she spent many sleepless nights considering the health and safety ramifications of in-person learning, decided that all students would begin the year with remote instruction.
The decision would be reviewed after 10 weeks, roughly coinciding with the first marking period.
Myers-Small made the announcement Aug. 13.
“This was not an easy decision to make,” she said at a news conference Aug. 14.
She said the past weeks have been gut-wrenching as superintendents everywhere wrestled with how to resume teaching and learning. She often was awake at 2:37 a.m. with her mind running.
In New York, districts had to submit plans by July 31. The RCSD plan called for a hybrid option for preK through grade 4 and students who receive specialized services. Parents had until Aug. 14 to decide.
Myers-Small said that 60% of the parents indicated they wanted a remote option.
The revision doesn’t affect grades 5 through 12, which were scheduled to start the academic year with only remote learning.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Aug. 7 said the state infection rate was low enough that he would allow districts to reopen if they chose. He said that decision would be revisited if infection rates increased.
He also said the ability to reopen buildings would be a non-issue if parents didn’t feel comfortable sending their children to class and teachers feared going back to the buildings.
The Rochester Teachers Association cited concerns over safety in its opposition to in-person instruction.
RTA president Adam Urbanski issued a statement:
“We thank Superintendent Myers-Small and the District for working collaboratively with us to make this outcome possible. … The remote-only model for now protects the health and safety of our students and their educators – and, by extension, the health and safety of our families and communities. Teachers do want to return to at-school and in-person instruction but only when it is safe to do so. We are happy that the District heeded the collective wisdom of parents and teachers on this critical issue. …”
Cuomo also said that schools offering in-person instruction needed to have protocols for testing and contact tracing. Myers-Small said that at this point, the logistics of meeting the mandate presented more of an obstacle than a reassurance.
Myers-Small said she based her decision on what other large districts around the nation were experiencing. She also said she did want to have to switch back from hybrid learning if infection rates forced school buildings to close.
“We are here for you and we want to keep you both safe and healthy,” she said.
Board of Education President Van White praised the decision. He said the burden of COVID-19 illness on Black and Latino communities meant the district has to protect the health not just of students, but also their families.
Myers-Small said the district has learned its own lessons about remote instruction since classrooms abruptly closed in mid-March. She said all students would have devices and ways to connect to the internet. She also said that online instruction would begin with teachers checking in on the social-emotional well-being of students. She expressed confidence that the education experience would be high-quality.
The district is partnering with the city’s Department of Recreation and Youth Services and The College at Brockport to support students, families and teachers.
Nine R-Centers will be learning labs for K-6 students – providing meals and safe places to play along with supporting learning. The centers will follow COVID-19 safety guidelines.
The College at Brockport will provide interns and student teachers who are adept at online learning. Some of the work will involve contacting families of disengaged students to determine needs.
Myers-Small said issues still needed to be worked out, such as how students would be graded and how to teach the arts, physical education and subjects that don’t lend themselves to PowerPoint.
She also said the district would look at the potential redeploying of personnel and she was mindful of effects of the budget.
RCSD has scheduled five sessions to explain the reopening plan to families:
• Saturday, Aug. 15, 1-2:30 p.m.
• Tuesday, Aug. 18, 10-11:30 a.m.
• Wednesday, Aug. 19, 5-6:30 p.m.
• Thursday, Aug. 20, 6-7:30 p.m.
• Friday, Aug. 21, 3-4:30 p.m.
District leadership will explain the plans and answer questions. To submit a question, send email to email@example.com. The sessions will be streamed on the district’s Facebook and YouTube pages.