Capital Region school districts react to lack of concrete state reopening standards

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CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Local school district leaders say they were frankly underwhelmed by Monday’s announcement by the Board of Regents and Governor Cuomo on post COVID-19 reopening.

“The guidance was fairly generic and not specific,” says D. Joseph Corr, the North Colonie Central School District superintendent.

“There’s still a lot of unknowns, the devil being in the details, as to how we’re going to roll this out,” says Mechanicville City School District Superintendent Bruce Potter.

The Board of Regents and Department of Health set school districts the task of coming up with their own reopening plans, to be submitted by July 31. They will need to fill six basic requirements on health checks, social distancing, health hygiene, face coverings, cleaning, and managing those with COVID-19 symptoms.

“We will be able to meet all of those, but there’s choices to be made and none of them are perfect,” Potter explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

One topic the district heads say they need more concrete direction on is transportation. Different social distancing standards could cut capacity from 60 kids to 20 or even just 10 per ride.

“If it goes strictly by the CDC guidance with one student every other seat, the capacity of that bus now goes down to 10 or 11. If it’s one student per seat, it’s about 22 or 23,” explains Corr. “Those numbers are very important in terms of determining how you get students to school, how are you do the routing, and the number of students who can actually attend.”

“Do we add additional bus runs and have the different drop off times for the students? Or do you go to an A day B day? There’s implications no matter how you look at it,” Potter says.

The new guidance also charged districts with finding more space to socially distance. That’s not a simple task, especially with some areas potentially losing up to 20 percent of their education funding.

“We are not in any position to add any space, but we can be creative with the space we have,” Potter says of the smaller Mechanicville City School District. “So we may be looking to the auditorium for example at the junior-senior high school, the cafetorium in the elementary school, the libraries and such and how those spaces get utilized.”

“The question then becomes how do you make that an effective space? The acoustics in a gymnasium or cafeteria are not the same as they would be in a classroom. You may need to put up temporary partitions, so there’s a cost associated with that,” Corr responds in kind.

“If districts have to resort to any kind of temporary facilities such as tents even or outside facilities, there are costs inherent in that. There are costs inherent in cleaning. There are costs inherent in some of the staffing that districts have,” he goes on to say.

One thing both Mechanicville and North Colonie superintendents say they’re glad to hear from the state is a mandate on helping kids transition. Both districts have set up community projects and done surveys with parents so they will have no problem providing for students emotional and social health. 

“That input has been vital to us,” Corr says. “Moving forward will mean relying on the work that our counselors, our teachers, our school psychologists, and social workers already did during quarantine time to identify students who were struggling, families who are having a difficult time, to make sure that we reach out and come up with assessments for students who are of concern to us so we can provide the service and support that they need.”

“Every single classroom-based staff, whether it be a teacher or teaching assistant or aid, has been trained in restorative practices and community building circles. It’s a new form of culture building that is deliberate. There’s a lot of neuroscience behind it in how people feel comfortable in an environment,” Potter says.

He says Mechanicville will be one of only five school districts across the country to implement a new emotional learning program, the Positivity Project, studied at the University of Michigan.

“It’s based upon the concept that other people matter and there’s 24 components to that. It’s strength-based and it’s really an entire culture support system. We’re going to have a class for every sixth-grader at a high school elective for juniors and seniors,” Potter explains.

He also says he’s pleased the regents brought up the topic of amending traditional time requirements and grading practices, something Mechanicville already started at the inception of virtual learning.

“It’s little bit off the traditional method, it’s not time bound, it’s skill bound. So there’s no timeline on learning and when you learn and master the skill and can demonstrate proficiency, you will forward,” Potter says. “From a grading standpoint, it’s more rubric-based, zero meaning you have absolutely no ability to do the skill or concept at all, all the way up to four.”

“We are changing our system, this is requiring all of us to be flexible and change our system and with that requirements need to be flexible,” he goes on to say.

The state promised more detailed instructions later this week. For now, that’s all our education leaders can hope for.

“We are dealing with a public health crisis and some of the items should not be negotiable,” Corr says.

“Not only am I a superintendent responsible for this district, I’m a father of two. I wish some things were more cut and dry, but I appreciate the flexibility of understanding that there’s nearly 700 districts across the state and not all of them look and act the same,” Potter says.


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