Local school district explains taking extra time to submit reopening plan


ROTTERDAM, N.Y. (NEWS10) — After months of waiting for reopening guidance, New York State delivered 145 pages mid-July and gave school districts just two weeks to deliver their plans.

“There’s never been this level — and I hope there never will be again — this level of complexity within our profession and never have the stakes been higher when you’re talking about something that could actually end in death,” says Mohonasen Central School District Superintendent Shannon Shine.

“In no business or industry would you plan things that are this complex this quickly, it’s just not prudent or wise,” he goes on to say.

About 650 of more than 700 New York school districts submitted their reopening plans on time Friday, according to the Department of Health. The State Education Department also confirms it granted extensions for schools to complete reopening surveys.

Superintendent Shine says he jumped on both opportunities for more time and is proud of it.

“I was actually shocked that more districts didn’t, because I thought great, we will have time,” he says to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

He says Mohonasen held a reopening committee meeting July 29. After hearing input from parents, teachers, school board members and others, Shine says he wanted to be absolutely sure the stakeholders knew his administration was listening.

“We gathered a lot of input during the breakout work sessions and it was a two hour meeting, so we wanted time to incorporate all of them appropriately into the plan so that we’re not putting one thing out and then redoing it,” he explains.

“It’s not like this is sudden, we had a framework for a plan for weeks, but once you start to put the meat on the bones, there’s a lot of details — probably more details than any of us have ever dealt with professionally before,” he goes on to say.

Even though a rough draft of the plan had been up for three weeks, his district decided they needed more time to factor out how they would tackle the four biggest issues facing in person learning post-COVID: staff, money, class sizes, and space.

“Three out of the four, I would basically give us an F on and the one, space, I would give us a B minus,” Shine says frankly.

He says the budget is tight and class sizes are large due to a corresponding drop in teachers.

“Two years ago we laid off over 20 staff members. This past year, we had a large retirement incentive. We’ve tried to be as fiscally responsible as we can possibly be, because income is no longer keeping pace with expenditures,” he explains.

Shine also shares the concerns of the New York State United Teachers Union. President Andy Pallotta says the guidance isn’t specific enough about the possibility of a second outbreak, writing in a news release:

This is no time to take risks. If the state allows school buildings to reopen, districts must be prepared to close them in the event of a positive case. But efforts can’t stop there. Clear state guidance is needed to ensure that confusion doesn’t obstruct serious efforts to stop the spread of this virus in our schools and in our communities.

New York State United Teachers Union President Andy Pallotta

“There’s some ambiguity and/or latitude. So some clarity there would be helpful, because if we have a situation, I don’t want to be the arbiter of all things medical, that’s not my expertise, nor would I want that liability, nor would a teacher want that liability,” Shine adds.

He says amendments to the Mohonasen reopening plan will include delaying the start of school by one day to incorporate extra teacher and staff training, working through resources to have all sixth grade students in person and secondary students on a rotating schedule, and also a more detailed execution of bus schedules, pickup, and social distancing.

A new survey will go out to parents Friday that will commit their students to in-person or virtual learning, whether or not they will take the bus or need school lunches. Shine says they are taking the extra week until the extended deadline, also Friday, August 7, to make sure they get the plan as perfect as can be.

“In order that parents can make an informed decision as to whether they are going to send their students to in person learning or not,” he says.

As for Governor Cuomo’s expected announcement on school reopening Friday, Shine says he’s cautiously optimistic.

“I would anticipate that he’s going to give the green light, but I say that hesitantly because I remember the cycle of two weeks and then yes and then no and variables that we didn’t understand or anticipate. We’ll just have to see,” he says.

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