NYS schools finally have reopening guidance, how Capital Region districts are putting it in practice


CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — School districts across New York have waited months for guidance on reopening. Now they finally have it, all 145 pages, after a detailed set of guidelines was released Thursday by the Department of Health and Department of Education.

“I think the guidance was quite specific. I think there are some areas where people still have questions,” says North Colonie Central School District Superintendent D. Joseph Corr.

To answer those questions, North Colonie Central School District and Mechanicville City School District superintendents plan to hold public meetings where they can inform parents, teachers, and the community how they plan to keep kids safe from coronavirus this Fall.

“The more in advance we can get them the information, the more that some of these protocols can be reinforced at home so that students know what to expect so it’s not brand new, it’s not something to be scared of,” says Mechanicville Superintendent Bruce Potter.

Corr says his district has already tried implementing some of the new safety measures for temperature checks, staggered arrivals, and socially distanced classrooms during the extended school year program for students with disabilities.

“That represents a cohort of 140 students and now we have to do this for nearly 6000 students. So it’s far more labor-intensive, it’s far more transportation intensive,” he explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

Potter says Mechanicville’s first draft of their reopening plan includes cohorting grades K-8 so only teachers will be moving about the hallways. He also says there will be a minimum of two entrances to every building.

“We’re going to reduce the number of kids by about half by staggering the start times and we’re doubling the entry points so it lightens the load on the folks who are doing the screenings and fewer students waiting in line, and things of that nature,” he explains.

One issue still to be resolved in transportation. The new guidelines mandate students be socially distanced which greatly reduces a school bus capacity.

“Traditionally, we have two bus runs in the morning and two in the afternoon. Well now we’re going to have to have a third in the morning and a third in the afternoon just to meet the spacial requirements, so there is an additional cost,” he says.

The new guidelines also require schools to provide their own PPE, one mask per student per week, five per teacher per week and 10 for every school nurse. That plus the extra cost of socially distanced transportation is a major concern.

“We passed our budget, but it didn’t include any of these items because they weren’t known at the time,” Potter explains.

“We believe we will use our budgeted amount extensively, but I think every school district across the state and across the nation is hoping for more assistance and a stimulus package from the federal government,” Corr adds.

Both Mechanicville and North Colonie also have surveys out so parents can weigh in on whether they want their child in or out of school. That will play a huge role in deciding how much of each district’s curriculum will be virtual, in person, or a mix of both.

“We took a survey in June and 55 percent of our students were represented by their parents. At that point in time, 20 percent of the parents said they didn’t want to send their students back until there was a vaccine,” Potter says.

He says Mechanicville will put out another survey after the meeting Monday, July 27 at 6 p.m. after the district has had a chance to show the community its reopening plan and answer questions.

“It comes to us now to find out if they still feel that way. There’s been new information coming out since, some other states are in worse situations. People may be feeling better about the Capital Region, but we need to know where they are at when it comes time to make that decision,” he explains.

Corr says North Colonie had its first plan demonstration meeting Thursday and will have another July 23 at 7 p.m. A survey has been live online and will continue until Wednesday.

“We are not asking our community to commit to anything yet, but it’s basically to look at whether they would be comfortable bringing their child back to school or not and whether they would be using school transportation or not, just to inform our initial planning stages,” he says.

Both Corr and Potter also add the results of the surveys can make budgeting easier if they know where to put resources.

“Those buses are usually stopping by every eligible house, but say some parents opt out of bus service? Well then, that may mean readjusting our routes and figuring out the capacity more easily,” Potter explains.

The new guidelines also place extensive emphasis on social and emotional well being for students and aiding their transition. Mechanicville plans to implement the Positivity Project, which aims at healthy community bonding.

“Building community, building relationships, and then how do we go about repairing harm when those relationships have been fractured. It’s purposeful, it’s thoughtful and it’s deliberate so that everyone feels safe,” Potter explains.

The guidance also acknowledges the necessity to provide for adult social and emotional needs.

“The overall experience of the pandemic has been stressful and hard for everyone. Some of our teachers and staff may have experienced an illness in the family, illness themselves, perhaps they were affected by the economic downturn of this entire experience, so it’s very traumatic in that way. As a community, we have to look after all our community members, and that includes our staff,” says Corr.

“There’s still a lot to do, there still a lot of unknowns, but as far as our plan of how we’re going to do school, we’re feeling pretty confident in it,” Potter says.

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