With New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision about reopening K-12 schools expected any day, school districts across the state have submitted their plans for the state’s approval. Those plans were due July 31. Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney held a videoconference with the superintendent of a school district in Orange County, sharing questions from area residents.
Plans had to address three possible scenarios — a full-in person return; all remote; and a hybrid of both. Richard Del Moro is superintendent of the Enlarged City School District of Middletown, with some 7,600 students.
“We are keeping students home for the first five weeks of the school term and therefore bringing the teachers into the classroom, in their own classroom, to promote distance learning from that regard,” Del Moro says.
He says with an average class size of 24 students, all cannot be socially distanced in the same room. Del Moro says students in earlier grades generally fare better with interactive learning.
“Our K-3, K-4 population, a special needs population as well as our ENL [English as a New Language] population, they seem to be most negatively affected, generally speaking, there are, of course, always exceptions to these things that we talk about,” says Del Moro. “So we are going to phase in our kindergarten first in slow numbers in an a/b setting and then, each week, add another grade level or two after that slowly so that we can manage all of the logistics that are required, part of the Department of Health as well as the guidance department of state Education Department telling us what we need to do.”
Whether his schools continue phasing in the return of students in-person will depend on the metrics during the first few weeks, and how the plans are working. Del Moro agrees the plan for his district is conservative, acknowledging some parents would rather see 100 percent remote learning. Democratic Congressman Maloney, whose 18th District includes all of Orange County, read some questions from those tuning in to the forum.
“Will students be required to be tested for COVID-19 before attending in-person school? Will parents have the option to go to all virtual learning if they feel that in-person school isn’t safe? My son attends SAS in Goshen School District,” says Maloney. “Ken wants to know anecdotally, the number-one complaint against remote learning is the need for child care. While I do not think our school should be consider day care, how can we provide child-care services… how can we help provide child care services.
As to whether parents can pull their kids out of in-person learning to go remote:
“In our school district, we’re not giving the option the parents as some other districts are doing,” says Del Moro.
However, there may be mitigating circumstances where parents could switch their children to remote learning entirely. Here’s Maloney on child care:
“And in the House of Representatives, we passed two major child-care bills just last week to address the urgent need to support child care in this country and to get it up and functioning safely,” Maloney says.
Maloney read more questions.
“Colleen wants to know what will you do if you have a positive case in the classroom,” says Maloney. “Bob’s asking, I’m a school bus driver. His question is if schools are going to open, what is being done to protect the drivers and students on the bus?”
Del Moro says buses will operate at 50 percent capacity and masks are required.
“And if a child’s about to enter that bus without a mask, the bus driver is to give them a mask and it will be provided by the district to the bus company whether you have a contract service or their own buses,” says Del Moro. “In addition, when they come off the bus, everyone in our school district will be thermally scanned, whether it’s a student or adult. And then, in addition to that, all adults will be handed out a screening questionnaire every day, and then, periodically, students will be given a questionnaire, but, daily, the children will be screened with a thermal scanning device, and anyone that has 100.0 or higher will be brought to the nurse’s station, escorted there.”
From there, Del Moro says schools must follow state Department of Health guidelines. Social distancing and mask wearing will be required of all. He says even those who wear face shields will have to wear a mask. One resident asked whether there is political pressure to reopen schools. Congressman Maloney:
“One of the things that has made me feel good about the state’s approach in New York is that it has been evidenced based,” says Maloney. And so, so the plan, folks, is not to make a political decision at all about our kid’s safety, about our schools, it’s to say what is the level of virus in the community, what is the rate of infection. If it is above a certain amount, it’s too dangerous to have school and a lot of other stuff.”
Superintendent Del Moro:
“If we’re talking about political pressure from our elected officials, I know of no one getting politically pressured to open schools up,” says Del Moro.
He says any pressure is coming from parents.
“This is not a political issue. This is a health issue,” Del Moro says. “This is the most important part of what we do in America, have a free public education for democracy. That’s what it’s all about, let’s face it. That’s what it’s about.”
Maloney says the federal government must provide assistance to school districts.
“Middletown gets $113 million in Foundation Aid from the state. That sound about right? says Maloney. “And a 20 percent cut would mean a $22 million hit on a $113 million base of support. That’s a shot below the waterline ladies and gentlemen. You can’t operate a school district if you take that kind of hit but that’s what the governor has built into the budget out of necessity without help from the federal government.”
The House and Senate are negotiating the latest coronavirus aid package. Del Moro says any cuts would be catastrophic.