Area schools answer reopening questions
FINGER LAKES--In accordance with directives handed down by the state for reopening school, districts across the region have held informative sessions for parents and staff to detail the steps to reopen in the fall. The Penn Yan, Dundee and Hammondsport school districts have all held community meetings to help answer questions about the upcoming school year.
The Penn Yan Central School District held three informative sessions on Aug. 13, 14 and 17 with each being viewed over a thousand times.
"When we began thinking about reopening the district after being closed for so long... we really started talking about the goal of our work," Superintendent Howard Dennis said.
Last year's abrupt transition to remote learning demonstrated firsthand the difference between in-person instruction and internet connectivity.
"So we began with the idea that we wanted to reopen fully," Dennis said.
Using federal, state and local guidance, Dennis said the district is doing everything in its power to ensure every school in the district is equipped with the materials, such as personal protection equipment and screens, along with the guidance necessary to open.
As it pertains to transportation, Dennis said many district parents have stepped up to transport students to school themselves lessening the burden on the district.
"(That is important because) what is allowed at this point is one student per seat unless [they are] siblings or family members for 22 students per bus. This will require rerouting and some students to transfer busses," Dennis said during the meeting Aug. 17.
Dundee held two interactive sessions, both on Aug. 10, with school principals detailing the district's plan to reopen fully on Tuesday, Sept. 8.
"As you all know we have been given the green light to reopen... we are very happy to be bringing students back to Dundee," said Chris Arnold, Dundee high school principal.
Arnold said students in the junior-senior high school will continue to follow a schedule, however students will not be changing classrooms.
Arnold said this setup will allow teachers the ability to initiate in-person learning, while also being able to connect with students remotely through the computer.
For the most part Arnold said students grouped together in a classroom will spend most of, if not their entire day with one another with little change in classroom or environment.
"We're still working on the cohort models and the students who will be in them, students will find that out when they get their schedules," Arnold said.
During the information session headed by Laurie Hopkins-Halbert, principal of the elementary school, she said the district would ensure children do not have fevers before being allowed in the building. Hopkins-Halbert said it is not only important for parents to be on board with the changes, but to talk to their children so they understand things like social distancing and sitting alone on the bus are rules and must be obeyed.
"We are trying to limit the number of people traveling through the halls at any given time," Hopkins-Halbert said.
Acknowledging it would be an adjustment for everyone, Hopkins-Halbert said safety sometimes isn't convenient.
"I know in the past we would be all about sharing, but we can't be now, so we will talk to the kids about why we aren't allowed to share anymore," Hopkins-Halbert stated.
Superintendent Kelly Houck is holding an additional question and answer session Monday, Aug. 31, on Facebook Live at 6 p.m. to address additional concerns.
In Hammondsport, three meetings were held with the most recent being Wednesday, Aug. 19. Hammondsport Central School District Superintendent Kyle Bower detailed the district's reopening plans during the sessions.
"Staff is coming back Sept. 2 and we are still planning on reopening Sept. 8," Bower said.
Despite plans to reopen Bower said challenges remain.
"The way the guidance stands today and the most challenging part for parents and families is that if students don't pass temperature screenings (they can't attend school)," Bower said.
If a student exhibits symptoms, Bower said there are protocols being designed to deal with that possibility.
"Students who leave with symptoms can not return without two things, a doctor's note... and they can't return without a negative COVID test," Bower said.
Bower said he was hopeful the state would allow local physicians to use their judgment alone for students to return for school, but that isn't a guarantee.
"We are hoping to hear (from the state) in the next week, and if anything changes we will let you know immediately," Bower said.
The other challenge to reopening is the sibling rule.
"If a brother doesn't pass the temperature screening, the sister will have to go home as well along with anyone in-district from that immediate household," Bower said.
As the situation regarding COVID continues to evolve, Bower said he would work to ensure all district stakeholders have the information they need.
As part of state guidelines required for schools to reopen in September, the Odessa-Montour Central School District and the Watkins Glen Central School District have held online meetings to inform parents about the details of their reopening plans. The meetings detailed reopening plans, tried to address any concerns, and answered questions from parents.
"It is important to remember that we, not the department of education, locally will decide the plan," said Watkins Glen Superintendent Greg Kelahan during a parent meeting held on Facebook, Thursday, Aug. 20.
In total there were three sessions to walk parents through not only the precautions taken when planning to reopen but also the criteria used to select a reopening plan.
"How do we know when it is ok to reopen, or close down again?" Kelahan asked.
He said the district must be continually aware of any safety threats to students or staff.
"We have to be able to satisfy that we are always able to ensure safety for students and staff and know what our supply of (personal protection equipment is)," Kelahan said.
Meetings for Watkins were held in the high school auditorium where some parents attended live but most tuned in remotely.
During the first meeting on Aug. 18, Kelahan said the district received hundreds of written questions, many submitted right before the meeting. This meant he spent most of the time taking questions from parents and in subsequent meetings was able to further use Powerpoint presentations.
As it stands, Kelahan said during the presentations Watkins Glen is planning for a hybrid model that would see students attend in-person two days a week with other school days held remotely. Students will be divided into two groups, with one group attending Monday and Tuesday and the other Thursday and Friday with Wednesday closed for deep cleaning at the school buildings.
Questions from parents involved transportation, gym, after school sports, cleaning and more. When discussing physical education for instance, Kelahan said the district still plans on having the class but in a modified form.
"How do we provide an experience where children stay socially distanced and not use the same equipment? ...Our teachers have been working all summer to develop strategies for students," Kelahan stated.
He added that if the state allows it, the district would use the pool.
In the end though, one thing Kelahan repeatedly stressed is that no one knows how long COVID precautions must be taken, and when normal school will be able to resume with no restrictions.
For the Odessa-Montour, Superintendent Chris Wood held two informational sessions virtually.
During the presentation on the district's process for reopening Wood said roughly 630 students are currently planning on attending Odessa-Montour in-person when school opens in the fall. However, the families of roughly 20 students have yet to respond to the district as it pertains to their plans, while roughly 120 have opted for remote only learning.
The district is currently planning on opening full-time for students on Sept. 10 with teachers reporting on Sept. 8 for training associated with COVID prevention.
Wood said the number of students whose families have responded to the district have allowed the district to begin planning aspects of reopening like transportation, cleaning, social distancing, classroom size and more.
Despite district officials actively planning on how to reopen, Wood said the district must remain flexible due to the constantly shifting nature of the pandemic.
If the district is forced to move to a hybrid model Wood said students would alternate between three and two days in school every other week with the other days being remote learning.