Beacon proposal calls for ‘hybrid’ schedule
Public school students in Beacon could have the option in September to begin the school year in person, rather than in front of a screen, under a plan the district has prepared to submit to the state.
Every district in New York must submit a reopening plan to Gov. Andrew Cuomo by Friday (July 31). During the first week of August, Cuomo said the state will determine on a region-by-region basis if schools can proceed with their plans.
The governor on July 13 said that each region’s schools can reopen if it has reached the fourth and final phase of the state’s reopening plan — as of July 20, all nine regions had reached that milestone — and if its daily COVID-19 infection rate remains at 5 percent or lower using a 14-day average. Schools will be forced to close if the regional infection rate rises above 9 percent, using a seven-day average, after Aug. 1.
The Mid-Hudson Region’s infection rate as of July 20 was 1 percent.
In Cold Spring, Superintendent Philip Benante said he expects to share the Haldane district’s plan with the community in early August.
In a letter to parents, he said he has asked administrators to “develop a schedule which allows our youngest students and more vulnerable populations to physically attend school more frequently” and to “establish a rotation” for the remaining students to both attend in-class and engage in virtual learning.
Garrison district officials said they are still working on their plan, as well. A 23-member committee of teachers, parents, support staff and administrators has been discussing options since June 25. In a letter to parents, Superintendent Carl Albano said he would release the plan once it is approved by the state.
Assuming Mid-Hudson schools are allowed to reopen, the Beacon plan would give the parents and guardians of the district’s roughly 2,800 students the option of sending them to class for two or three days a week or continuing with the full-time virtual learning that took place in the spring.
In order to meet a state requirement that individuals remain 6 feet apart, the plan would have half of the district’s students who opt for in-school attending on Mondays and Wednesdays, with the other half on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The groups would alternate attendance on Fridays.
“It’s not perfect, but I think we can keep learning happening for all of our students,” said Superintendent Matt Landahl. “Last year we were thrown into it, but this year we can prepare. We want to make a difficult model at least predictable.”
During a school board meeting on Monday (July 20), Landahl took the federal government to task for its lack of financial support for schools and parents alike.
“It’s hard to not be frustrated by this sense that localities can figure this out,” he said. “There needs to be more support if they’re serious about trying to reopen schools. It’s not just buying masks or buying filters for our ventilators; it’s about supporting families” struggling with childcare and other issues related to the economic shutdown.
District officials asked parents and guardians this week to complete a survey to determine how many students might return to classrooms.
If the Mid-Hudson Region is given the OK by the state to proceed, Landahl said August will be spent fine-tuning nearly every aspect of the reopening plan. A significant concern, he said, will be the strain on teachers and support staff attempting to offer in-person and virtual learning at the same time.
If schools stick with a hybrid schedule for the entire 2020-21 academic year, Landahl said he anticipates New York State will relax its requirements for instructional “seat time,” which is a minimum of 990 hours for grades 7 to 12 and 900 hours for grades K to 6.
In addition to its altered schedule, the Beacon district would implement a number of health and safety protocols.
Students would be required to wear masks at school except when eating; the district has a stockpile of 25,000 disposable masks and may purchase a supply of washable ones. School buildings would be disinfected midday and at night, and each classroom would be equipped with ventilators to keep the air moving.
The custodial staff would conduct deep cleanings after the school day with newly purchased “auto-spray” and ultraviolet-light equipment.
The district also expects to provide parents with a smartphone app that would help identify COVID-19 symptoms. School officials could screen students’ temperatures upon entry, as well, and enforce staggered entry into buildings to maintain social distancing.
Landahl said that the district plans to rent tents for each of its schools to complement outdoor learning spaces.
Parents and guardians will also be offered an all-virtual option that Landahl said “will feel a little different” than the one employed this past spring.
In response to a survey of parents conducted by the district after the shift to online learning in March, the remote option will include more live teaching and student-to-student and student-to-teacher interaction. It would run daily but also will attempt to address “Zoom fatigue,” the superintendent said.
“There needs to be more of a structure and more interaction so it’s not kids sitting in front of a screen from 8:30 to 3:30,” Landahl said. “We’re working on what that looks like.”