The past 14 months have been extremely challenging for students, teachers and families. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools across the state to radically change delivery of instruction by implementing hybrid learning models which includes a blending of in-person learning, remote and virtual instruction and also full remote learning options for some students and families.
These changes provided many learning opportunities for students to learn safely and enabled our schools to reopen in the Fall successfully controlling the spread of the virus throughout the current school year. However, many students are struggling under these circumstances and need to return to school full time.
It is now time to learn from the positive experiences of our schools this year and change restrictions given that the situation has improved regarding COVID-19 and schools have been proven to provide safe and healthy environments for students and staff.
While the most recent guidance from April 9, 2021 is helpful in many regards, there continue to be many restrictions that will ultimately make a complete return to school impossible. In particular:
- Cohorts at the secondary level
- Maintaining cohorts at the secondary level in communities categorized by the CDC as high risk for community transmission presents several challenges. Most counties in the state are considered high risk (despite a decline in the transmission rate) and for many of our districts, it is simply impossible to establish cohorts as defined by the New York State Department of Health. In order for our districts to offer the range of courses they do at the secondary level – courses that students need to successfully prepare for their post-secondary choices – having different groups of students in different classes is necessary. The fact is that this is the only practical way to operate a comprehensive high school.
- In order to meet the Department of Health’s requirement and bring all students back in-person, many of our districts would need to eliminate a significant number of courses to the detriment of our students’ education. Further, this guidance seems to be in contrast to the New York State Department of Health’s “Interim Guidance for Sports and Recreation during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency,” which currently allows high-risk sports in consultation with the local health department. We ask for the same flexibility for in-person instruction.
- Social distancing on school buses
- While the guidance suggests that parents/guardians should be encouraged to drop off students at school, this presents challenges for parents who do not have transportation or who can no longer adjust their work schedules to transport children to and from school. Further, many of our school campuses are not designed to accommodate a significant amount of thru traffic.
- We anticipate continued mask wearing on the bus at all times, in addition to window ventilation and continued cleaning and disinfection. With these measures in place, we believe a change to the social distancing requirement on the bus is both reasonable and necessary in order to have all students learn in person every day next year.
- Social distancing in classrooms and cafeterias where students are eating
- While many districts are able to flex spaces and, to some extent, schedules to accommodate students eating while six-feet apart, implementing this model for all students presents many challenges. In order to have all students onsite, many districts would need to have some students eating lunch as early as 9:30 a.m., which is clearly not practical or in the best interest of students. Allowing students to eat while three-feet apart would allow all schools to feed all students, in-person and on a reasonable schedule.
- Guidance on in-person, virtual and hybrid learning
- The 92 school superintendents in the WSWHE, HFM, Questar III and Capital Region BOCES regions are committed to having all students return for in-person learning in September. However, in order to do this, it will be critical that we receive guidance from the New York State Department of Health by May 15, 2021 and from the New York State Education Department thereafter. Waiting until the last minute will not provide adequate planning time, which is not in the best interest of our students or staff.
- This guidance should outline protocols for in-person instruction of students, as well as virtual instruction and a hybrid (a mix of in-person and virtual learning). As much as we want students in classrooms with their teachers, we recognize that the prolonged nature of the pandemic and individual family needs will require districts to be prepared for all models of instruction.
Since September, our schools have implemented reopening plans with fidelity. These plans include social distancing, the correct use of masks, cleaning and disinfection protocols, careful monitoring of community spread of COVID-19, and a mix of high-quality learning models. We are asking the NYS Health Department, NYS Education Department and our elected representatives to take into account the good work being done by all of our schools and consider these changes to the existing state guidance.
Contact Your Elected Representatives
NEW YORK STATE LEGISLATURE
Assemblyman Jake Ashby
NYS Assembly District 107
594 Columbia Turnpike
East Greenbush, NY 12061
Albany, NY 12248
Assemblyman John McDonald III
NYS Assembly District 108
Albany, NY 12248
Senator Daphne Jordan
NYS Senate District 43
1580 Columbia Tpke, Bldg 2, Ste 1
Castleton-on-Hudson, NY 12033
LOB, Room 508
Albany, NY 12247
UNITED STATES CONGRESS