Watkins approves off-season sports training
WATKINS GLEN--The Watkins Glen board of education voted Monday, Oct. 6, by a 4-3 margin to begin an off-season training and conditioning program for students in grades 7-12. The board also voted unanimously to have Superintendent Greg Kelahan analyze and prepare a report on the offer of Pre-K through second-grade teachers to transition from a hybrid model (in-person and virtual online) to full time at school. Close to 20 teachers and staff members attended the meeting to show support for returning full time, arguing the current hybrid system is untenable.
"It's not working, we want to come back," said one teacher who wished to not be named.
Kelahan and most board members stated during the meeting the hybrid system is ineffective at meeting all the students' needs but that is a hard sell for some parents.
"Everything is political today, this is political and not science-based," Kelahan said. "I was a science teacher and (I have tried using science to convince parents it is safe to send their children back full time) but was unsuccessful."
At issue, Kelahan said, is Gov. Andrew Cuomo's decision that parents and teachers are the primary decision-makers as to whether a school opens full time or not.
"Superintendents and school boards have not been making the decision," Kelahan said, adding if he opened full time some teachers would refuse to return but that if he went full time remote there would be significant outrage from parents.
"But at some point, we have to say the hybrid system is an exercise in futility," Kelahan mentioned.
Kelahan also discussed the public relations difficulty of taking steps to reopen fully when neighboring districts, such as Horseheads, have recently gone full time remote due to COVID-19 breakouts among staff and students.
Board member Jessica Saks commented while there have been new positive cases in Schuyler County, the majority of tests performed have been negative. Schuyler County Public Health Department director Deborah Minor recently said at a Schuyler County Legislative meeting the majority of COVID tests being performed in the county are for members of the healthcare industry and devising infection rates based on that data is not reflective of general infection rates in the county.
As it stands, the Southern Tier of New York is facing some of the highest increases in infection rates in New York state outside of the city, much of which has been traced to a church in Chemung County.
After being pressed by multiple board members including Saks, Kelahan stated it was his preference to have all students back full time and not just younger students.
"It comes down to a level of tolerance for students, teachers and parents," Kelahan said.
Saks expressed support for voting on reopening full time for at least younger students as soon as possible, while Board President Gloria Brubaker said she could not support that without at first consulting all affected stakeholders including parents of remote children.
"We have a plan, we can make this work," one teacher said.
When asked if their plan would allow students in remote to retain the same teacher they started the year with, the teachers said it would not.
After the discussion, the board voted unanimously to have Kelahan analyze the teacher proposal to reopen Pre-K-2nd grade and to report back to the board at the following meeting.
Most of the teachers and staff in attendance left after the decision, with one stating they were disappointed the decision had been put off to another meeting again.
The board voted in favor of Athletic Director Rod Weeden's off-season conditioning program despite objections by Kelahan.
Kelahan, who made it clear his objections were philosophical in nature and not against restarting sports, said he opposed Weeden's plan due to it creating a de facto preseason for certain sports like soccer and swimming despite seasons being postponed by Section 4.
"I have no problem supporting generic conditioning," Kelahan said, adding, "but I don't support efforts to backdoor a preseason for certain sports when the decision to cancel them was not made by us."
Weeden told the board he disagreed with Kelahan's characterization of his plan.
"This is not a preseason because we are not practicing against anyone else," Weeden said.
As it stands, Weeden said more than 100 kids had already signed up for the program pending board approval.
"Athletics are a huge part of growing up," Weeden said.
In the end board members Theresa Butler, Kevin Rumsey, Barb Schimizzi and Craig Bianco voted to start the program with Brubaker, Saks, who voted remotely, and Kris Clarkson voting no.
The workout program started Oct. 6 and run through Nov. 24 and will include sections for soccer, running, swimming and weight training and will occur under the supervision of certified coaches.