CHENANGO COUNTY - Today is the State Education Department’s deadline for schools across the state to submit a detailed reopening plan of what learning will look like when classes start again in September.
Just two school districts in Chenango County had made their detailed reopening plans public as of Thursday: Oxford Academy and Afton Central. Others say their plans will be released on their website and social media pages by Friday.
“Please understand that under current CDC, Department of Health, and Department of Education requirements, it is impossible for us to provide more than 50 percent of our students with in-person instruction on any given day,” Oxford Superintendent John Hillis wrote in the district’s plan which was rolled out to the Oxford community on Wednesday. “You will also see that there are many new procedures and protocols that we need to have in place when we open our doors. For these reasons, we are asking for your patience as we get everything put in place to bring students back.”
For months, local schools have been developing blueprints that prepare them for three possible reopening scenarios: in-person learning, remote learning, or a combination of the two. Each school must address a slew of considerations, including health and safety of students and staff, child nutrition, scheduling, transportation, attendance, technology and connectivity, special education, and fiscal matters.
In a statement made this week, Norwich City School’s Teaching, Learning and Personnel Director Scott Ryan emphasized the hardships schools and communities are currently facing, and he said his district’s first-draft plan is a living document subject to change when state officials say whether schools will be reopening their physical classrooms or meeting virtually.
“The plan requiring a July 31st submission will not address all of the details for our four buildings but rather will demonstrate the considerations we have made in respect to teaching, learning and safety,” said Ryan. “This is an incredibly layered process as you can imagine.”
The New York State Education Department released its official guidelines for school districts on July 17 with the expectation that Gov. Andrew Cuomo will announce during the first week of August whether students can return to classrooms. SED’s 145-page document outlines essentials for each district to consider but also offers flexibility in scheduling, noting that “there will be no ‘one size fits all’ model for reopening schools.”
Most districts in Chenango County have already released a preliminary schedule for a hybrid model of instruction, where students are in the physical building some days but learning virtually on others. Though this model satisfies safety guidelines, school officials say it’s proving to be a challenge, namely for working families with children in different grade levels or different buildings.
“I am receiving many questions on childcare. This is an ongoing discussion at the district level,” Bainbridge-Guilford Superintendent Timothy Ryan said in a letter to homes in the B-G district last week. “Please begin to think about what childcare can look like if your children are in school two days a week, and learning at home three days a week. At this time, the district is not in a position due to spacing and safety requirements to offer childcare.”
School officials are urging people to check their respective district’s website and social media accounts for updates as detailed reopening plans are made available to the community.