Board of education discusses reopening plans, new state testing requirements


Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ and members of the community reopening task force gave an update regarding a return to full-time in-person learning at Wednesday’s board of education meeting. Elementary students will return to in-person instruction April 12 but enrollment numbers are still being evaluated at the secondary level, according to Champ. The district will announce the plan for secondary students after spring recess.

As mentioned at the last board meeting, the current secondary plan involves phasing in grades two at a time, based off emotional and academic factors. When grades start in-person instruction the other grades will continue to observe the hybrid learning model. Fully virtual learners will continue to learn via Google Meet and Google Classroom, with open office hours and academy continuing to be offered.

The issue of lunchtime under the full in-person plan has been met with numerous ideas; at the elementary level, it’s more manageable to separate students, as they will eat in classrooms allowing for staggered eating if necessary. At the secondary level during days with good weather lunch is not an issue under the current plan to divide grades 6-8 in half for lunch and recess, allowing all middle school students to be accommodated. During days with inclement weather, specific data for the number of students in the building are needed to create more definitive plans, as there is not enough room for all students to be indoors at the same time.

“Lunch is a special component of student wellness,” said resident Erin Ginsburg. “(It’s) a critical component of student wellness. It’s not just about nutrition, it allows for unstructured social interaction unstructured time, a release valve from the pressures of the academic school day; it is vital.”

The task force made numerous recommendations such as a renewed focus on community building at all 6 schools, a focus on classroom routines and expectations, a focus on social structures and changes, a focus on integrating fully virtual students into community activities and parent training to help with the transition to a full in person environment, to handle separation, academic and Covid-19 anxiety and to identify mental health needs.

According to assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and personnel Steven Garcia, the Algebra 2, Geometry, Chemistry, Physics, U.S. History and Global History regents for June and August have been cancelled. New York State is only administering the Algebra 1, English Language Arts, Living Environment and Earth Science regents exams.

This year, students who are passing the course are not required to test and can exempt from the exam; those who do test can choose to exempt their score from being added to their transcript. Garcia said it is important that students are “held harmless” with testing and examination this year. Federal law states that annual testing must be administered, but the state is not pushing students to take tests this year. More information regarding state exams will be released by the district when available.

The district is looking for 50% of staff to be fully vaccinated by the end of spring break and 70% of staff to be vaccinated by the years’ end. Contact tracing and surveillance testing continues throughout the district. Less than 20% of the student population in the middle and high schools submitted consent forms to be tested and the district is hoping for more students to sign up to get tested.

Air purifiers are on the way and a local college is lending desks to the district. An order for new, fully clear dividers without borders has been placed in order to improve visibility for elementary students.

The bi-annual student wellness and substance abuse survey was administered this week for grades 6-12. Organized by Pelham Together, Pelham Civics and the district, the survey’s purpose is to measure student wellness and substance use. This year’s survey received around 1,500 responses.

The review and adopting of the 2021-22 school year budget is in progress, with two more opportunities for community input on Apr. 7 and 24. The vote for the budget and election for open school board trustee positions will be on May 18.

Policy 5633 regarding gender neutral single-occupancy bathrooms was read for the first time. Currently, the only single occupancy bathrooms in the secondary schools are in the respective nurses’ offices. The current plan presented by the board is for signage to be displayed directing those in need of a gender neutral bathroom to those areas.

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