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Monday 28 September 2020
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Youngest Learners Could Be Back in Classroom in RCSD Reopening Plan

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

Rochester City School District Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small, left, at a news conference July 30,2020, about a regional task force on safely reopening schools. Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

The youngest learners in the Rochester City School District will be offered a mix of in-person and remote learning, according to the reopening plan announced July 31.

The district submitted its plan to the state Education Department and posted it at rcsdk12.org/reopens.

The district’s 62-page plan is divided into 12 topics: communication/family and community engagement; safety, health and facilities; child nutrition; transportation; social emotional well-being; extracurricular and interscholastic activities; attendance and chronic absenteeism; technology and connectivity; schedule; teaching and learning; special education; bilingual education and world languages and staff.

The main website links to the reopening plans for each building. For grades starting the year with remote learning only, the plan details what a hybrid model would look like if the district makes that transition.

The district is offering a hybrid model beginning with students in PreK through grade 4, K-6 special classes and K-12 specialized programs. Students not in school for the hybrid model will receive instruction through distance learning.

Students in grades 5 through 12 will start with only online instruction, according to the plan outlined by Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small to the Board of Education on July 30 in an online meeting and submitted the next morning to the state.

Myers-Small, who had led the Brockport Central Schools prior to working for the state Education Department and then RCSD, said the reopening plan was one of the most difficult things she’s worked on in her career as a superintendent. She said the district had to plan for three scenarios: in-person learning, a mix of in-person and distance learning, and distance learning.

The district’s plan is guided by the recommendations from the state Education Department, the state Department of Health, the Monroe County Department of Public Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In presenting an outline of the plan to the Board of, Myers-Small said, “No matter what decisions the Rochester City School District made, there were going to be concerns and people who were not happy.”

She said she has heard from parents who refuse to send their children into a school building and from others who said that if classrooms didn’t reopen for five days a week, they wouldn’t pay their city taxes because that money supports the schools.

Meanwhile, the Rochester Teachers Association Representative Assembly on July 20 unanimously approved a resolution to postpone at-school and in-person learning at least until the end of the first quarter.

RTA president Adam Urbanski sent a letter to Myers-Small and board president Van White on July 30 with the resolution.

While all students have been without in-person instruction since mid-March, Myers-Small says the face-to-face contact is particularly important for young children and those with special needs. She said the hybrid model provides some of that contact.

She also pointed to reports that suggest that 10- to 17-year-olds may be more likely to become infected with the novel coronavirus and develop COVID-19 than younger children. But preteens and teens do not appear to be at higher risk of developing severe illness, according to the CDC.

She also said that evidence from schools internationally suggests that re-openings are safe in communities with low COVID-19 rates. As of late July, about 4% of people tested for COVID-19 had a positive result.

Myers-Small said the preK-4 plan is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics which takes into account infection rates, and educational and social emotional needs among different age groups.

Safeguards include but are not limited to: masking for all staff and students; physical distancing in all school settings; cohort students; limiting the number of staff in buildings; additional cleaning and disinfecting; and planning for ill students and staff.

All school districts had to submit their plans by July 31. However, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not yet decided whether he will allow buildings to reopen for in-person instruction. His decision is due by Aug. 7.

Parents or caregivers for students offered the hybrid model need to inform the district of their choice by Aug. 14. She left open the possibility that parents could change their minds.
She said the plan would cover at least the first semester.

Planning to reopen learning – however it’s done – has consumed districts throughout the county and the region. RCSD has been meeting regularly since January to talk about COVID’s effect on classrooms, and that was two months before the first case in Monroe County.

On July 30, the regional health planning agency Common Ground Health announced a regional effort to navigate the safe reopening of schools.

The Finger Lakes Reopening Schools Safely Task Force has been meeting for about a month but made its public debut.

The task force has more than 40 members from the fields of education, public health, health care, government and nonprofits. Parents also are represented.

The task force will be driven by data and the latest scientific knowledge about the virus and will provide “information and analysis in a transparent and accessible manner,” according to a news release.

The task force recognized that urban, suburban and rural districts have different needs and is not prescribing a one-size-fits-all remedy. The task force’s role is to develop resources for schools and families; make sure support systems focus on access and equity; share insights and best practices; practice honesty and empathy to keep community trust.