Champ says elementary students will return to fully in-person learning April 12, secondary schools to follow

‘We’re going to be back, but it’s still not going to be normal’

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Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ told the board of education Wednesday elementary school students will be brought back fully in-person starting April 12, which allows for an extra week after spring break for any Covid-19 cases to occur. The middle and high schools will begin the full-time return sometime in April, depending on a further assessment of capacity.

“By waiting until the 12th, as I said at our last meeting, this allows for more of our staff to be fully vaccinated,” Champ said. “We anticipate over 50% of our staff, not just our teaching staff, but our entire staff, to be fully vaccinated by the time we return from spring break. We will be asking parents to make a decision and commitment on whether they are going to have their children returning to full-time in-person instruction under these conditions, or whether they’re going to be keeping their children home for full-virtual instruction.”

Her presentation showed the New York State Department of Health guidance “calls for six feet OR mask/barrier.” The presentation also provided some research showing a small difference in risk between six and three feet distancing and the success in other New York schools using reduced distancing.

The district will be introducing air purifiers and box fans in all classrooms to improve air quality, and at the middle school where some windows don’t open due to the air conditioning, higher quality air filters will be implemented. Students and staff must continue to use barriers and wear masks. Surveillance testing is currently in place in the district, with the goal to test 20% of students across the district each month.

“We really need everyone’s partnership in” the testing, Champ said. “We need everyone to be willing to participate in this.” The presentation said that all in-person students will be expected to participate in the “non-invasive program.” Champ said surveillance testing is “critical” at the secondary level because “there’s more spread amongst older students.”

When full in-person learning is implemented at the elementary level, the start time will pushed back to 8:30 a.m., with a 2:40 p.m. staggered dismissal. Open office hours will be at 2:50 p.m., with school specific schedules forthcoming. Elementary students will continue to eat lunch in classrooms at a three-foot distance.

Once the secondary schools return, first period will begin at 8:15 a.m. and ninth period will end at 2:46 p.m., with the five-minute passing time between classes maintained.

“Hallway passing is a time where they are likely going to be closer than three feet,” said Champ.

Noon dismissal on Wednesdays will continue district-wide under the full in-person model. Students who choose to attend are expected to attend in person every day, unless they are sick and then should stay home. Students who stay home sick must present a negative Covid-19 test upon returning to school.

Fully remote learning will remain an option districtwide, using the same model as now, with additional supports considered for schools with a significant number of virtual students.

With our rooms as they are, we cannot fit 100% capacity with the three-foot distance”

— Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ

“With our rooms as they are, we cannot fit 100% capacity with the three-foot distance” in the high school and middle school, Champ said. As a result, the district needs definitive data on how many students are returning in order to make firmer plans on the secondary schools reopening.

“We need parents and students to make a strong commitment that if they are coming in person for whatever day they are assigned to come in, that they will be there, because that has a direct impact on someone else not being able to be there that day.”

The order for secondary grades to return will be 8 and 12, then 6 and 9, and lastly grades 7, 10 and 11. Hybrid students will continue to attend as fully in-person grades are phased in.

“Seniors missed the end of their junior year, and they’ve missed their entire senior year,” Champ said. “It’s their last chance and there’s a lot of things seniors want to experience.”

Eighth graders will be brought back first in consideration that these students may be taking Regents exams in June. The New York State Board of Regents is meeting Monday to discuss the state of the June Regents exams.

“Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Education is still insisted upon maintaining the standardized testing in schools this year,” Champ said. “A waiver has been submitted, but at this point, we have not been released by the federal government from offering the certain accountability regents exams and third through eighth testing, which seems, as we’ve been saying, cruel and unusual punishment, in this year of all years, that we should have to put that stress in front of our students and in front of our teachers.”

The district must have a firm commitment from families on full in-person or virtual learning, as this information will be critical for the planning of space. The program selection survey will be sent out Friday, with responses due at noon on Wednesday. Family information sessions reviewing what Champ presented are being present Thursday at 9:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. More information can be found on the district website.

“We’re going to be back, but it’s still not going to be normal,” said Champ.

The next board of education meeting is scheduled for March 24 at 7:30 p.m. and can be viewed on YouTube Live.