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RCSD Sets Jan. 4 as Date for In-Person Learning for Students in Specialized Programs

Patti Singer

RCSD Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small at a news conference in August 2020 about reopening of schools. File photo

This story was updated Nov. 3 with the resolution from the Rochester Teachers Association Representative Assembly.

The Rochester City School District announced Oct. 29 that it will plans to provide in-person learning beginning Jan. 4 for students with disabilities in specialized programs in grades K – 12.

In-person instruction will be held on four days. Families can opt to remain with remote-only learning and each one will be contacted by Nov. 6 to state the preference. The information will help the district finalize logistics.

The move affects about 800 students. The rest of the district’s students will continue with remote learning at this time.

“We must continue to provide meaningful instruction during this pandemic. While we would love to bring all of our students back into school buildings, this is the smartest decision to ensure the health and safety of students, their families, and our staff,” Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small said in a news release.

This decision was made in collaboration with school leaders, the community and with the support of Monroe County health officials. RCSD also looked at other districts in New York and across the country.

On Nov. 2, the Rochester Teachers Association Representative Assembly adopted a resolution that the union negotiate with the district on terms and conditions of the return, particularly involving members with their own health conditions or those of their family. The union also urged the district to put additional protective measures in place for the students who may have underlying conditions; the district use independent and expert inspectors to check the facilities to be used and that the transition to in-person instruction be done only when it is safe.

The topic of in-person classes in the RCSD came up during the weekly COVID-19 media briefing with Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Monroe County Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Michael Mendoza, which started almost at the same time as the district released its statement.

Mendoza said there’s always been the desire for the district to hold in-person instruction.

“The reality is that it’s just difficult,” he said. “There are a lot of concerns in the city. All of the factors that t we know of in the city are making it a little more complicated for students. We very much care both for their mental health and how they are doing at home in this very difficult environment … .”

The district said it continues to monitor the number of COVID-19 cases, testing capacity, and indication of community spread in the local area.

As of Oct. 26, a map of confirmed cases by ZIP code showed the most cases (between 501 and 1000) were in areas north and northeast of downtown, poking into Irondequoit, Penfield and Brighton.

Blacks and Latinos continue to have higher rates of cases than white residents in the county – three times for Blacks and about two times for Latinos per age-adjusted 100,000 population. Deaths rates are considerably higher for Blacks and Latinos than for whites.

Myers-Small later answered questions from Minority Reporter about the reopening plan. Here is the conversation, edited for space and clarity.

Initially, the district was going to review after 10 weeks, the end of the marking period. Why wait until January?

The end of the marking period is Nov. 13 and we need to know who many of these 800 students are going to come back. We can’t get that done in the next week. … Once we know that, we’ll have to set up classrooms. Some of the teachers may have an underlying condition that doesn’t enable them to come in. Then we’ll have to shift some students around based on the number of students and the educators who are able to or unable to come in. We’ll have to create class schedules. That takes some time.

How many buildings will be used?

We won’t know until we know the number of students.

The initial reopening plan in August was for students with disabilities in these specialized programs and pre-K through grade 4. Why are students in these specialized programs the only ones with this option?

We heard from parents and teachers saying this really is a priority group to come back. It’s been very difficult for them to be online in the remote environment. We really needed to bring these students back sooner rather than later.

What would prevent this from happening?

If we became an orange or red zone.

If we stay where we are with numbers, do you see this expanding?

The goal is to get students back. We need to figure out what that next priority group is. We will look again at the end of January. That represents the halfway mark through the school year.