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Reopen Batavia Strong Task Force

July 28, 2020 - 5:17pm

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About 315 students in the Batavia City School District will be taught exclusively in a “distance learning” capacity, according to the reopening plan that will be submitted by Friday to the New York State Education Department and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

Batavia Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. today shared details of the strategy to educate the district’s nearly 2,200 students as the 2020-21 school year approaches. The first day for all students is Sept. 9.

Prior to submitting its comprehensive report of about 50 to 60 pages, district officials on Monday released a Reopen Batavia Strong graphic that outlines the health protocols that will be in place as well as the daily schedule for students – breaking the Monday through Friday routine into five “cohorts.”

“This is a visual piece for parents – the 30,000-foot view,” Soler said, advising that it can be found on the district website and Facebook page. “The Reopen Batavia Strong Task Force gave us recommendations, input and feedback, and we feel this is a good plan.”

Looking at the graphic, one can see the following:

-- Cohort One: Students with last names beginning with A-K attend school Monday and Wednesday; remote learning takes place Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

-- Cohort Two: Students with last names beginning with L-Z attend school Tuesday and Thursday; remote learning takes place on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

-- Cohort Three: High school students taking BOCES career technical education courses (at the building across from Batavia High on State Street) attend school on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; remote learning takes place on Wednesday and Friday.

-- Cohort Four: Students with special considerations and targeted academic support attend school every day.

-- Virtual Cohort: Parents who chose 100 percent remote learning for their child(ren); remote learning every day.

“It’s important to emphasize that the virtual cohort is parent driven; it is the parents’ choice,” Soler advised, noting that about 15 percent of the student population has opted for distance learning at this time. “We thought it was important to give parents some choice. Some parents feel unsafe, and have the right to feel that way. Some of them don’t want to bring them in until they have full assurance that their health and safety are protected.”

Cohort Four students (around 250) will consist of total in-person learning for students with special needs and considerations, such as disabilities, English language learners and pupils with individualized education plans, Soler said.

“They will have more of an intensive, in-person given the fact that we have some legal obligations with their individualized education plans,” he said. “Also, this cohort will include students that teachers feel need more individual attention as well as access to food and a caring adult every day.”

The superintendent said the thought process was to use last names as a way to keep students from the same household in school together.

“We do know that some families have mixed last names in the household and we will make considerations for those families,” he said.

Soler said district administration and staff are entering uncharted territory.

“We had a rushed experience last year – shutting the schools down fully. Now, we have an idea of the direction we’re heading in,” he said. “This is still all pending the governor’s approval. He could say, this is a good plan, it’s not a good plan. Or he could decide that schools aren’t going to open across the state – they’re going to go virtual. I’m hoping that’s not the case, given the fact we have a low infection rate in this community.”

The governor is expected to announce his decision on reopening between Aug. 1-7.

Until then, maintenance and janitorial staff at the various Batavia schools are reconfiguring desks and disinfecting classrooms.

“The 6-foot social distancing really minimizes how much in-person we can do,” Soler said. “We want to err on the side of safety and health. There are a variety of opinions out there, but we have to go off what we feel is best. We have a responsibility to provide optimal safety and health for any of our families, even if they agree or disagree with wearing masks. We’re bound by the guidance that is put before us.”

Regarding child care, Soler said the “virtual day” was moved from Monday to Friday to have the least negative impact upon families seeking child care.

“We thought it would be easier for them to find someone to watch their kids (on Friday) than on a Monday,” he said.

Teachers will report to school every day and will be able to livestream their classes to include students who are at home, Soler said.

“We believe that’s the least burdensome on our teachers. That way, they won’t have to recreate a lesson. Kids can watch live and interact with their peers in the classroom. It will require us to do some training on best practices on what distance learning looks like,” he explained.

Soler said that a teacher may be assigned to be a full-time virtual educator or may have one of his or her five classes designated as a virtual class. He also said that a schedule is being set up for distance learners, such as having English at 8 a.m., Math at 10 a.m., etc.

Of course, he wishes that all students could be taught in their school buildings.

“We have families that are really adamant about in-person but, again, we just don’t have the capacity,” he said. “We don’t have enough teachers to split every class to maintain health and safety protocols at a high level and we also don’t have enough building space to cut our classrooms in half and basically double each class.”

July 20, 2020 - 11:18pm

Two days in school; three days learning remotely from home.

That is a possibility, at least at the beginning, for the 2020-21 year for students in the Batavia City School District.

Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. tonight presented a sample weekly schedule at the district’s monthly Board of Education meeting livestreamed over its YouTube page.

Speaking for nearly an hour, Soler touched on various scenarios that he and the Batavia Reopening Strong Task Force are facing with the start of school less than two months away.

How students will be educated certainly is up in the air thanks to COVID-19 and its impact on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision-making process.

Last week, the governor announced that a school will be able to reopen only if its region is in Phase Four and that the daily infection rate in that region is at 5 percent or lower over a 14-day average. Furthermore, if a school does reopen, face coverings, social distancing, health screenings and strict cleaning guidelines will come into play.

The state education department has issued a 145-page reopening document, covering a wide spectrum of topics, such as submission of reopening plans (which are due by July 31), communication, health and safety, facilities, nutrition, transportation, social/emotional well-being, attendance, technology, athletics and extracurricular activities, special education and staffing.

Soler said the district’s reopening plan revolves around three options – in-person learning, 100-percent virtual (distance) learning, and a mix of the first two models.

If it comes down to the third choice, it is conceivable that – depending upon the day of the week and the first letter of their last name -- on a particular day, some students would be in school and some would be receiving instruction remotely online.

While emphasizing that nothing is etched in stone at this point, Soler offered a daily schedule that could look like this:

Monday – Pre-kindergarten through 12th grade: virtual learning, but students at Genesee Valley Educational Partnership across the street from the high school (BOCES and Commercial Trades) would have in-person learning.

Tuesday – Pre-K through 12th grade with last names ending in A-K, in-person; last names ending in L-Z, virtual.

Wednesday – A-K, virtual; L-Z, in-person.

Thursday – A-K, in-person; L-Z, virtual.

Friday – A-K, virtual; L-Z, in-person.

This schedule would hold true for all students unless their parents opted for 100-percent virtual learning, Soler said.

When asked about the alternating schedule’s effect on parents’ child care plans, Soler said the idea was to have set in-school, out-of-school days so parents could plan their child care accordingly. He did acknowledge, however, that “we imagine that no model is going to suffice with (parents’) day care schedule …”

Soler said the district is asking parents “to make a choice that they can live with and support as a family, knowing that in-person is up to five days,” he said, adding that an online registration form has been created for parents to indicate their preferences. “It probably won’t be every day if 2,000 people choose that choice (in-person learning).”

He said that as of this morning, 300 of 500 respondents chose in-person schooling while 75 or so opted for 100-percent virtual online. In the end, Soler said he thinks enough students will opt for 100-percent virtual, which will enable the district to “dedicate a workforce of teachers to just be virtual and work with those kids.”

But, he said, “some parents have said, ‘I’m not going to send my child back; I don’t feel comfortable and I don’t feel safe until there’s a vaccine.' ”

About 60 parents checked “other” – an option that could mean that their child will be homeschooled.

Soler said the district will call parents who chose “other” and, if applicable, will clarify the difference between homeschooling and virtual online teaching.

He also said that all staff members, including administrators, are expected to report to their school building every day, unless they “qualify for some kind of leave or were physically unable to work.”

The superintendent told board members that he was “hesitant” to reveal the sample schedule at this time, but did so “because when we share this (with the task force) on Friday … the word will get out there, so we’re trying to be proactive and transparent.”

He said the plan could be changed if a large number of students choose to be taught remotely – “then everybody will be able to come every day because we have so many people signed up virtually.”

Other highlights of his report to the board:

-- Administrators are exploring the use of Robert Morris on Union Street, the former elementary school building, to provide more in-person opportunities. “The challenge for us is staff; we don’t have more teachers, so we’re looking at how we can use aides,” he said.

“How do we feed them if they’re at Robert Morris because we’re required to feed everybody – (breakfast and lunch) whether they are in-person or signed up for remote (learning).”

-- Sanitation, cleanliness and other health-related mandates will result in increased costs.

Soler said he estimated that providing disposable masks to every student and staff member would cost the district about $800,000. He also said the district is looking at hiring more janitors and already has purchased “jet packs” for deep cleaning and polycarbonate sheets to block offer areas in the main offices.

“We still have a responsibility to clean every day – and will probably alter our cleaning staff schedule to be more of an afternoon/evening schedule,” he said, adding that staff would be charged with teaching proper hand washing and making sure hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies are readily available.

-- Social distancing will result in fewer students per class. He said that the 6-foot-apart rule will drop class sizes from around 24 to about 10-14, depending upon the square footage of the room. Also, students will have to eat in their classrooms because of the restriction on crowd size in the cafeteria.

For those in chorus or band, for example, the social distancing requirement increases to having to be 12 feet apart.

Also, the capacity on the bus will decrease considerably, from 50 down to about 22. Fortunately, a recent district survey revealed that parents overwhelmingly indicated they will transport kids to and from school if necessary.

-- Fall sports have been delayed until Sept. 21. “That’s a big impact; a lot of kids rely on fall sports. What does that mean for us as we reopen?” Soler asked.

-- Soler said the district will have a mobile app that mirrors its website to go along with the reopening plan. He said parents and students will be able to livestream to find out the lunch menu or the sports schedule for the day, for example.

In the end, Soler seemed resigned to the fact that it’s virtually (no pun intended) a no-win situation.

“If we do this perfectly, everyone still won’t be happy. Our team is working very hard … trying to look at all perspectives,” he said. “At the end of the day, everybody wants everybody back – in what was termed normal conditions, no mask, no social distancing, full bus, full activities, full sports, and we just can’t do that.”

He noted that field trips may have to be put on hold and other events may have to proceed without spectators.

“Imagine having a concert with no one in the audience,” he said. “That’s what we’re looking at, those kinds of things. It breaks my heart.”

The governor is expected to make his final decision during the week of Aug. 1-7.

In other developments:

-- Soler reported that 129 students are enrolled in a virtual summer school for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, with some individual in-person components.

The program, coordinated by Bernadette Krumpek, is focused on math, reading and writing. A different learning model for students in grades 9-12 also is available.

-- The board voted in favor of a contract with the City of Batavia for a School Resource Officer for 2020-21, with the district to fund the salary and benefits of the officer. The district budgeted $125,000 for the full year.

The City would be responsible for the SRO’s vehicle, uniform, equipment and training. The Batavia City Council is expected to vote on the resolution at its Aug. 10 meeting.

-- Mark Warren, president of the Batavia Teachers’ Association, issued a statement indicating its support and involvement in the district’s reopening task force.

“The members of the Batavia Teachers’ Association miss our students and we would love nothing more than to return to a normal pre-COVID school building, but that is not the reality at this time,” he said.

“We are working as part of the Reopen Batavia Strong Task Force to create a reopening plan that meets the educational needs of the school district and focuses on the health and safety of the students, faculty, staff and community, based on the directives and parameters released by the state, created by experts and backed by science.”

July 10, 2020 - 3:46pm

A full two-thirds of respondents to a Batavia City School District survey concerning reopening want students back in the classroom this fall in a traditional setting with health-related guidelines in place.

“Most of our parents want in-person classrooms and so do we,” said Superintendent Anibal Soler Jr. today following the first meeting of the BCSD Reopen Batavia Strong Task Force.

The Google Meet videoconference drew 51 participants, with 35 of them being parents of Batavia students.

Thus far, 875 people have responded to the survey, with nearly 600 of them identifying themselves as in the parent/family category. About 650 of the respondents said they had students in grades 5-12.

Soler said he is hoping to get 2,000 responses before the survey concludes on Monday, which also is the day that guidelines from Gov. Andrew Cuomo are expected to be released.

The BCSD survey can be found on the district’s Facebook page.

On the subject of reopening, 67 percent of the respondents either “agree” or “strongly agree” that in-person school should reopen in September with some new procedures to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

When asked if in-school should resume in September with face coverings when social distancing is not possible, 46 percent said “agree” or “strongly agree” and when asked if distance learning should be used until a COVID-19 vaccine is found, 68 percent clicked “disagree” or “strongly disagree” while 10 percent said “strongly agree.”

Additional survey results are as follows:

-- On the impact of COVID-19 on their family: 72 percent, some impact/noticeable impact; 22 percent, significant/severe impact; 6 percent, no impact.

-- On their confidence level to send their child back to school knowing the district will comply with all CDC guidelines: 33.6 percent, strongly confident; 28.8 percent, confident; 23.3 percent unsure.

-- On sending their child to kindergarten this fall: 54.3 percent of 247 responses said they will enroll the child; 45.7 said they won’t.

-- On having half the students in school, the other half learning remotely: 49 percent either “strongly disagree” or “disagree.”

-- On transporting their child to school to reduce the number of bus riders: 66 percent “strongly agree” or “agree.”

-- On their comfort level with busing, even with sanitizing: A mixed bag with 24 percent who “strongly disagree,” 22 percent who are “neutral” and 28 percent who “strongly agree.”

When queried about the most important safety measures, hand sanitizer in classrooms/common areas, daily temperature taking and no sharing of materials were the top three. Other measures included in the survey were COVID-19 testing, wearing masks at all times and no use of the auditorium, lunchroom or playgrounds.

Sixty-two percent said they expect sports and extracurricular activities to be provided with reasonable safety measures. Fifty-one percent responded that fans should be able to attend and 34 percent were in favor of just parents being able to attend. About 14 percent indicated that events should go on without any fans.

“The biggest thing is let’s not forget the health and safety of everybody,” Soler said. “I’m hoping we’re pretty good in the (Finger Lakes) Region; our data has shown that we’re good and that we’re able to open and welcome kids back.”

He said that social distancing will present quite the challenge.

“You’re not going to have 20 kids in a class,” he said. “With having six feet between everybody, it’s going to change things and make things a little bit interesting. We’re going to have to look at how we use our space and our buildings.”

Batavia City School District buildings are Jackson Primary School (PK-1), John Kennedy Intermediate School (2-4), Batavia Middle School (5-8) and Batavia High School (9-12).

Soler said he put the task force together to look at the big picture – reopening -- but also, through the work of subcommittees, “to peel away at some of the smaller conversations.”

“In anticipation of that official guidance we feel it is important to begin to run through potential scenarios, challenges and also include student and parent voices in that process,” he said.

Subcommittees are health, safety & athletics; transportation, facilities & nutrition; teaching & learning; equity & digital access; budget & fiscal; social-emotional needs; Special Education, English language learners & multilingual learners; and staffing & human resources.

The district, in line with directives from Albany and Center for Disease Control guidelines, is considering three models of teaching and learning:

-- In-Person (w/masks & social distancing);
-- Hybrid (Flex Model) Alternate Schedule (Distance Learning & In-Person);
-- Virtual School  – 100-percent online with an emphasis on proficiency.

“Do we bring all the kids back or certain grade levels back? That’s what I was doing today with our parents and various stakeholders," Soler said. "We have to think of these various scenarios and various teaching and learning models. I don’t have any answers yet but knowing that next week we’re supposed to get some guidance, we need to think about this now.”

After learning of the state’s guidelines, tentatively set for Monday, Soler said the task force will proceed with: subcommittee meetings; posting of the survey results; a second task force meeting (July 17) sharing data with the Board of Education (July 20); a third task force meeting (July 24); submission of the district’s plan to the state (July 31); and the governor’s decision (Aug. 1-7).

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