SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — Temperature checks. COVID-19 screening questions. Social distancing. Masks when that’s not possible. Plenty of PPE for everyone. Disinfected buses. If a school …
SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — Temperature checks. COVID-19 screening questions. Social distancing. Masks when that’s not possible. Plenty of PPE for everyone. Disinfected buses. If a school desperately needs space and is willing to jump through regulatory hoops, there could be tents. (But consider the ventilation!)
Welcome to New York’s 2020-21 school year, assuming it happens. Schools will know for sure the first week in August.
Because they can’t just sit around, school districts are busy making plans for reopening with an assist from just-released state guidelines.
It’s easy to shake your head over the new rules, but the state is taking them seriously: New York’s state education department (NYSED) regs were issued in 145 pages of detail on Thursday, July 16 offering a glimpse of what the future could look like for kids.
• School buses: still running, but regularly disinfected. Masks required, social distancing needed, which raises questions about bus schedules when schools fully reopen. How will all the kids be accommodated on a full bus? Will more routes be added?
• School schedules: They’ll include in-person teaching, remote instruction or a combination. “To adhere to state and local health and safety guidelines and ensure social distancing practices, schools may consider various reopening plans and schedules that stagger or alternate their students’ return to campus,” NYSED’s report said.
• Some things will be more relaxed: Gym class, for one. Science classes can have hands-on and virtual labs.
• Special-needs classes: They’re a high priority for in-person classes. (See page 112 of NYSED’s guidelines*).
• Bilingual learners: Their education could be really harmed by not going to school, the guidelines say, and even in a pandemic teachers need to make sure these students are learning and their needs are addressed.
• Space: Under NYSED’s rules, schools must have capacity to maintain social distancing as much as possible, and to make that easier, “schools may expand their physical footprint or change the way they utilize space.” That would include renting space elsewhere or using tents (which have to abide by state standards that are spelled out in detail starting on page 51*).
• Fire and lockdown drills will continue.
• Remote learning relies on broadband. NYSED says that plans “must include information on how the school will: have knowledge of the level of access to devices and high-speed broadband all students and teachers have in their places of residence.” They should also try to make devices and internet access available “to students and teachers who currently do not have sufficient access.” Finally, they have to find a way for kids to learn in remote or blended ways, especially if not everyone has access.
It’s not just the Education Department telling schools what’s needed.
“The New York State Department of Health issued their ‘Interim Guidance for In-Person Instruction at Pre-K to Grade 12 Schools During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency’” on July 13, said Sullivan County BOCES director of communications Donna Hemmer.
The Health Department rules are similar to NYSED’s, but with some highlights and questions: They’ll require a contact tracing system. How will we know when students who have tested positive for COVID-19 are allowed to return to school? Interscholastic sports are still not allowed.
It’s up to the schools to figure out how to meet the rules. Said Hemmer, “All school districts must submit their reopening plans by July 31, incorporating the guidance elements” from both NYSED and the Department of Health.
“At some point between August 1 and 7, Gov. Cuomo will decide as to if and how schools will reopen in September,” she added.
And in the meantime, schools are in limbo.
*Guidance from NYSED: www.bit.ly/nysedschool
Guidance from the Department of Health: www.bit.ly/dohguidelines