The Rochester City School District will pursue a three-phase approach to opening its buildings, with the second and third phases happening sometime in the third quarter.
Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small said she left the timing vague to leave room for adjustments as dictated by COVID-19.
The plan begins with the previously announced move to restart in-person K-12 specialized programs on Jan. 4. The discussion and ultimately the decision to expand it to bring students back to real classrooms came the day New York City announced it was temporarily going back to all-remote and after a Monroe County district shifted to all online and Monroe County Department of Public Health announced another record number of cases reported in one day.
The Board of Education voted 4-2 to allow the superintendent to move ahead with the hybrid model, subject to further considerations and the process unfolds.
Board President Van White and other commissioners Bill Clark, Amy Maloy and Ricardo Adams voted yes.
It was Clark’s first vote since being appointed to the board. “I think at this point we really need to get to address the learning loss from remote learning. Overall, it’s the best direction we can move in as a district.”
Adams said that students he talked with want to return and that his vote supported their wishes. “I will go with what my kids are talking about.”
Vice President Cynthia Elliott and Willa Powell voted no. Beatriz LeBron was absent. Discussion lasted about two hours.
“I don’t want our children to go back to school under any circumstance until we have moved through this pandemic,” Elliott said. “In our communities we’re more vulnerable, and to have our children to be around other people who may have contracted COVID unknowingly and then take it back to our families it just puts us in an even more disproportionate position given the heath issues our community currently has.”
Elliott acknowledged that many students want to return to school. But she said they may not have access to all the information that the board has.
“If we’re the adults, we have to be the ones to make the decisions. Sometimes those decisions are difficult. I don’t want to allow our students to put us in a position that we’re making a political decision as opposed to us being the mothers and the fathers we need to be for our children. There are times when parents have to say no. In my view, this is one of those times.”
Myers-Small presented the following hybrid implementation timeline:
- Jan. 4, 2021. Phase 1 for K-12 specialized programs. K-8 students in specialized programs attend their home school, except for East and Franklin Lower. 7-12 attend Edison. All other K-12 remain remote.
- Third quarter. Phase 2 for preK-6 general education and special education. Hybrid students attend their home school. 7-12 students in specialized programs remain at Edison, including East and Franklin Lower.
- Third quarter. Phase 3 for 7-12 general education and special education. Hybrid students, including specialized services, attend their home school.
Under the proposed hybrid model, students would go to their classrooms two days a week and have remote learning the other days.
The superintendent and the board acknowledged that many questions remain. Among them:
- Exactly when the phases will begin.
- The number of students who will return. Families have an option of staying fully remote. The district also has to factor in the number of staff who are may not return because of medical conditions.
- The cost of reopening.
Myers-Small said she would being immediately to survey families about their intentions. Ballpark figures were given in the presentation, and Myers-Small said the amount was in the budget. However, the exact cost is tied to how many students want to come back to the buildings. Adams said it was crucial that families respond to surveys and any outreach by the district so that officials know how to proceed.
The district is dealing with a deficit that has been put in the tens of millions to more than $100 million. In her presentation on the reopening plan, Myers-Small put the deficit at $75.5 million with a 5% projected cut in state aid.
State monitor Shelley Jallow, who participated in the online meeting, said she wanted more information about the finances tied to reopening. Jallow is working with the board and superintendent on five-year academic and fiscal plans. She said she is willing to give the district a little time to get the hard numbers on the reopening but made it clear she expects to see the financial ramifications.
The wording of the resolution that allowed the board to vote on the plan makes it a work in progress. Myers-Small said she had talked with experts in child health when formulating the approach. She said she wanted to have medical professionals talk to the board as the pandemic and the plan unfold.