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September’s School Outlook Is Murky For The Capital Region

School bus
Pat Bradley/WAMC
School bus

As school officials scramble to shore up reopening plans, parents across the Northeast are wondering if they'll be sending their children back to school or be keeping them home come September.
Getting any degree of "normalcy" in place for students returning to classes in the fall is a tall order. Albany City Schools Superintendent Kaweeda Adams:

"Districts across the state were charged with developing reopening plans, and these reopening plans needed to address three different models. In person, a hybrid model, as well as a virtual learning model."

Adams says the district formed a committee of employees, "internal stakeholders," to develop a framework to determine things schools would need to work through.

"And then, from there, we started to engage our community. And we had parent forums, student forums and we also held a forum for our faculty and staff so that we could get more input."

Judith Wines’ daughter will be entering fourth grade at the Albany School of Humanities.

"She as a 9-year old doesn't see as much of the nuance that we see as parents. She very much wants to go back to school. She adores school. She literally skipped to school every morning up until the middle of third grade last year and had a really hard time when in-person school ended. She went from a kid who loved everything about school to a kid that wanted nothing to do with online learning. I think it just wasn't close enough to the real deal for her to geel like it was school, so when we talk to her she's like 'Oh I absolutely wanna go back.'"

Kathryn Bamberger has two children attending Albany High.

"Not a whole lot has changed about what we know about how COVID-19 is spread. In fact it seems the more that we experience the more things change, and the schools that have been chronically underfunded for dcecades are now facing a situation where they've got yet another unfunded mandate to bring back students back into school and have all additional sanitizing and cleaning and have online learning which they may or may not have had before, and be able to provide all the programs and services that they always provided in tyerms of special education and other support systems."

Adams says the district is "currently doing housecleaning" along with examining transportation issues and figure out the logistics of accomodating students.

"Instructionally, in looking at what would it be if we were to bring students back in person, we're looking at preK through 5 going to school five days a week. Now that means that we may have to use additional buildings, so that impacts middle school and high school. Looking at the numbers of students that we have, we would not be able to house all 10,000 of our students every day and maiuntain social distancing. So what that means is, that at the middle school level and the high school level we would have to look at some hybrid models where they are rotating on-campus two to three days a week and two to three days a week they may be off with an advisory period or an hands on day where they are getting the music and art and, for example, science labs and things like that would be on one day a week. Those plans are still being discussed."

Wines says parents are caught in a web of uncertainty she characterizes as a "lose-lose situation."

"On the one hand we are certainly cognizant of and want to be respectful of the concerns of teachers about being in a closed environment with a dozen or so kids everyday, that's a risk. We are cognizant of the challenges to the school district. If we don't enroll our child the school will lose funding, which is not really a tenable position. And we are cognizant of the fact that we have full-time jobs that are hard to do when supervising elementary kids' schoolwork. But at the end of the day, we saw how much our kids suffered in the spring, and we know that the schools need kids for school to work."

Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to announce the state’s decision on reopening next week.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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