Champ outlines three plans for reopening schools without saying which she would prefer

Pelham+Superintendent+Dr.+Cheryl+Champ+presented+the+district%27s+three+plans+on+YouTube.

Pelham Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ presented the district's three plans on YouTube.

With the July 31 state deadline for school reopening plans fast approaching, the Pelham Board of Education met for a widely anticipated work session to outline the various options facing the district. Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ explained the three different plans the board and administration have “literally been working (on) nonstop since February.” The three consist of fully in-person learning, totally remote education and a hybrid-learning environment.

Champ did not state which plan she preferred to implement in Pelham.

A school district spokesman said all the “plans will comply with the (state) guidance. Obviously, the hybrid model allows for better physical distancing than having everyone back in at one time. We will make a decision as to which model we will begin the year with in August.”

During the meeting, Champ did say that due to the size of the Pelham schools, “social distancing will be a significant challenge for our district.”

The district must submit the three plans for New York State Department of Education review by Friday. The plans were to be written to meet 149 pages of guidelines issued by the department earlier in the month.

On July 13, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that all regions in phase 4 with a 5% or lower infection rate in the first week of August can reopen schools, as long as districts have a plan approved by the education department. If between that week and the start of school, the regional infection rate spikes above an average of 9% over seven days, the schools can’t open.

As of July 27, Pelham’s region has a 0.9% infection rate, according to the state’s early warning dashboard.

“While it appears our region will meet the metric, we will await the official determination from the state next week,” said Alex Wolff, public information officer for the Pelham schools. “That being said, local conditions will still have to be taken into account by each district when deciding how they will open. Additional information to assist in that decision process is still forthcoming from the Department of Health.”

Champ said she is aware that “no plan will be perfect… work for every district… (or) work for every family in our district” but that the district has been working hard to find a plan that “works for most people.” The superintendent said the Pelham Union Free School District has been connecting with nearby districts about their approaches. “We really strived to find the best plan for Pelham.”

Full in-person learning

In the situation of total in-person learning, the plan includes daily cleaning and disinfection of facilities, masks required for all students and staff (the district will be providing masks and additional PPE upon request), the installation of one touch-free faucet and paper towel-dispenser in each bathroom, daily health questionnaires completed by all students, adults and visitors to schools and daily temperature checks for all persons entering the buildings. Ill students will be assessed, isolated and sent home as needed if they display any Covid-19 symptoms. 

At both the elementary and secondary levels, the district is considering staggered start and end times for the school day, as well as staggered class times in the middle and high school. No cubbies, coat rooms or lockers will be utilized, and Champ emphasized the necessity of bringing minimal belongings to school. Personal kits will be created for students in order to limit the sharing of classroom supplies, such as colored pencils and paint brushes. Town halls, assemblies, field trips and concerts will be suspended, as well as band, chorus and orchestra classes.

In the elementary schools, students will remain in the same classrooms for all classes, specials and lunch—but will move rooms if they require intervention or special education services. A bathroom protocol will be installed in order to limit overcrowding. At the high school and middle school, the libraries, auditorium, Alumni Hall and gymnasium will be used as lunch spaces. Champ said the district is considering expanding off-campus privileges to PMS students. All fall athletics have been postponed to September 21 by the state athletics governing body.

Hybrid Learning

The second plan was described by Champ as a “hybrid-learning environment,” which combines in-person and remote learning. In this approach, students would be alphabetically divided into two groups, and roughly half would attend school on Mondays and Tuesdays, while the other half would attend on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays would alternate between the two groups on a weekly basis. On the days when students are not experiencing in-person instruction, teachers will livestream lessons from the classrooms so that students can attend virtually. This capability will be made possible through the purchasing of document cameras for classrooms which can project media through Google Meeting and the expansion of the Chromebook program to include all students in grades 3 to 12.

Totally Remote Learning

In the case of fully remote learning, Champ said social and emotional learning and support is a major area of focus. Students can expect more time with teachers than in the spring and increased feedback through assessments. Champ said the district is conscious of the effects of screen time, so students will be given an hour break for lunch and small “movement breaks” throughout the day.

Tentative virtual class schedules for all grades can be found on the district website, as well as Champ’s full presentation from Monday’s meeting.

Students will be required to use their school-provided devices and keep their cameras on during classes in order to keep students engaged. Quantity of homework assignments will be based on grade and course level.

The full work session can be viewed here.