'Masking is the big issue.' Superintendents gathering information as they prepare school reopening plans
“Masking is the big issue.”
In five words, Pavilion Superintendent Kate Hoffman this morning summed up what other high-level administration officials at Genesee County school districts are thinking as they contemplate their reopening plans when classes resume on Sept. 7 or 8.
The Batavian reached out to public school superintendents and Notre Dame Principal Wade Bianco to gauge their progress in articulating what restrictions, if any, will be placed on pupils and staff.
During discussions with the officials contacted, it was reported that a Zoom meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. today with Kevin MacDonald, Genesee Valley BOCES district superintendent, to communicate updates on COVID-19 case data and to try to reach a consensus regarding protocols and procedures.
School leaders also have been consulting with Paul Pettit, Genesee/Orleans public health director, for additional guidance on testing, vaccination and other health-related topics.
“We have gone over some guidance following CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommendations,” Hoffman said. “For us, I’m still formulating our plan. A couple things that I know are likely to happen – we will move to a 3-foot social distancing and we will not be offering a remote option this year.
“We do some opportunities for our high schoolers for a BOCES-run program, but that’s has limited slots for that, so we’re really working through things and trying to see if any guidance does come down from state ed (the New York State Education Department) to see what that entails.”
Currently, superintendents are indicating that they don’t expect any executive orders or mandates coming out of Albany, but things could change if there is a reorganization at the top of the NYS Department of Health.
“It’s my understanding that everything (from the state) are recommendations this time around,” Hoffman advised. “More local decision-making.”
All superintendents said they will be sending out information to the staff and community electronically on their websites and via letters, but none have scheduled in-person meetings with parents yet.
On masking, Hoffman said she’s aware that it is the primary concern of all involved.
“We have some families that are strongly against masking and we have some that are strongly encouraging masking,” she said. “Unfortunately, I’m aware that any plan that we put out is not going to satisfy every single person. My hope is that we do the very best for our students and we approach this with a good dose of common sense and we listen to the people who know the numbers.”
Hoffman mirrored what other superintendents said when it comes to putting out a plan that is flexible in case the landscape changes in either direction.
“I believe our plan will be flexible enough to adjust if the number of COVID cases in our area go up, then we adjust to that; if they go down, then we adjust in the opposite way.”
Comments from other superintendents are as follows:
Scott Bischoping, Batavia High School:
"We’re still in the development of those regionally; still meeting with other superintendents," he said. "As you have seen from the national sort of news how this is traveling – changing very significantly, so we’ve held off on finalizing any planning until we get a further view of it."
Bischoping said Batavia plans on returning with students' in-person learning, so at this point, it's down to the masking requirements.
As far as meetings with parents, he said it may be done on a school building basis.
“We may even do those on a building level rather than a full district level because there would be nuances of those requirements and expectations for different buildings," he offered. "Most would be the same and we will communicate that electronically in letter, but with meetings we have not decided yet whether to do one with the full district or with various groups. Obviously, athletics will be different and will have their own meeting."
He said local districts have the "benefit" of seeing what other states are doing.
"We want to get a good look at that over the next couple weeks before we settle on anything," he said.
John Fisgus, Oakfield-Alabama:
Fisgus said that he anticipates releasing O-A's reopening plan by Friday afternoon, which likely will be the first document that will go out to the public. Previously, he sent out a survey to both staff and the community to gauge residents' feelings on face coverings.
"We certainly will be back five days a week in person; we were that all last year, so that's not a question at all," he said. "The big question for us is the masking."
Gretchen Rosales, Elba:
"Our goal is to develop a plan that meets academic, social, emotional and safety issues of the students and the staff. We have to carefully balance the wishing of our community with the CDC guidelines," she said. "The process is pretty intensive but it's important so it will take a little bit of time. We're working collectively to come up with something."
Rosales said she is expecting to begin the 2021-22 school year with 100 percent in-person learning, but is aware of the public's concerns over masking.
"I think that everyone is just waiting for final guidance and then we can make our plan and go from there."
Merritt Holly, Le Roy:
Holly noted the number of "moving parts" in the process, especially considering what has happened with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
"The interesting part is that I don't know, with the administration change in Albany, if the DOH now will put something out at the 12th hour before we start in September," he said. "So, that's always hovering and hanging. Even though they said they wouldn't, was that Governor Cuomo telling them to do that?"
At the local level, Holly said that today's meeting with MacDonald will hopefully "piece some things together and to find out what other districts are thinking about."
He said he initially thought to release his plan next week, but may wait as more and different information is disseminated.
"Really, what I think that it comes down to is that the mask requirements will be the biggest thing," he said, reiterating the common theme.
Plus, students need to be in school five days a week, he said.
"We can't go back to a remote or hybrid learning model," he said. "That's just not good for kids."