Last week, Marlboro Superintendent Michael Brooks laid out his administration’s ‘Return To Learn’ plan for reopening the school district in some form in September. He said planning for this has challenged the district on how to protect the students physical and emotional well-being while providing a stimulating academic environment during a worldwide pandemic.
“Reintroducing our staff and students back into school and also back into learning is a task that no one has ever experienced after a pandemic in the modern era,” he said. “So pulling our people together in the same direction to create a learning environment that all can have the opportunity to prosper is certainly a challenge.”
In response to Covid-19 the New York State Education Department [NYSED] and the New York State Department of Health [NYSDOH] have set up requirements that school districts must follow in order to reopen in September. The NYSED is focused on regulations, teaching and learning and the physical environment of cleaning the schools while the NYSDOH is providing direction on how best to safely reopen.
Brooks highlighted the health and safety requirements the district has to follow: all staff and students must wear masks (with very few exceptions), adherence to social distancing, limiting visitors, ensuring transportation protocols, instituting accommodations for students at high risk and conducting drills. These measures are part of the district’s overall plan that will be submitted to the NYS Education Department.
Brooks said the district has compiled three instructional plan models that will be submitted to the state, with the Governor deciding which model the district will follow:
1. All staff and students returning to school every day, which resembles a regular school year, and a curriculum aligned with NYS standards. All safety protocols must be maintained, which Brooks said may be difficult, especially with keeping proper social distancing.
Brooks stressed that class sizes will be managed, face coverings will be required but breaks will be scheduled, students will stay in one classroom to limit student movement along with instituting staggered scheduling to lower the number of students in any given space, lunch procedures and location will be reviewed and frequent hand washing will take place.
2. A remote fully online option: minimal instructional expectations must be defined and refocused, with the district being guided by the teaching staff, devices, such as iPads, will be purchased for all students K-5 with recent funding through the Federal CARES Act. The upper grades will be using Chrome books. He touted the fact that significant technology upgrades in the district have been done that will support streaming in the classrooms. Student and staff scheduling is presently under discussion.
3. A Hybrid A/B format consisting of a mix of in-person and online learning. Students, on an alphabetic basis, will attend in school on alternate days, either Tuesdays and Thursdays or Wednesdays and Fridays, following regular school schedules. The other two days for each group will take place at home with online learning. Instructional expectations will be tightened up, with online attendance, participation and completion of homework assignments closely monitored, typically on Mondays when all students are working at home and teachers are in their classrooms.
Brooks said some special education students will attend school on line on Mondays but will be in school Tuesday through Friday.
The district is considering instituting a full On-Line Academy for families who are uncomfortable with having their children attend school in person starting in September, however, this is currently not allowed by the Governor.
A calendar change for the 2020-21 school year would begin with training days for staff only from September 1-4 concerning protocols, technology support, curriculum and instruction planning with teams and departments. Students instead of coming to school on September 2 would have a rolling start September 8th to the 11th with 25% of each school attending in-person, each of these 4 days. The slow opening will allow students to re-acclimate socially and emotionally to the in-person school environment. On September 14 the district will begin with one of the three models the Governor has approved.
Roseanne Mele, Assistant Superintendent For Business and Personnel, has compiled numerous health and safety measures: establishing entry criteria, temperature scanning, all offices and classrooms will have sinks or sanitizing stations, signs highlighting social distancing will be posted in common areas, hallways and classrooms; demonstrations of hand washing, distributing masks when needed by staff and students; staff will also receive shields and safety bags to carry gloves, masks, shields and sanitizers if they travel to different classrooms and the janitorial staff will initiate enhanced cleaning protocols of the facilities.
While students are traveling on buses, masks will be required, social distancing will be encouraged where possible and students will be screened as much as possible before they enter the bus. The district will partner with the Quality Bus company to ensure proper cleaning practices of the buses are being followed. The district will be encouraging parents to drive their child to school if possible in order to to cut down on the number of students on each bus.
Robin Hecht, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, said the Instructional Plan Committee had more than 100 members participate, including committees from all three schools, the Stakeholders Advisory Committee, the Building Administration and Central Administration Task Forces, the Building Sub Committee and the Department Chairs, Team Leaders, Grade Level and non-instructional staff meetings. She said the Technology Committee K-12 has been meeting with Mike Bakatsias, Assistant Superintendent for Technology and Personnel, to ensure that students have computer access for their devices.
Hecht sent out 25 surveys to students, faculty, staff, parents and community members to solicit their input on the plans. More than 1,500 comments were submitted by 2,000 individuals concerning the 2020-21 school year. She said 8 out of the 9 groups favored a hybrid model for next year; 1 out of 9 groups selected the option of Full Remote Learning as their 1st choice with a hybrid model a close second choice and 70 percent of the parents said their children need to participate in Google Meet from 1 to 3 days a week.
Hecht touched upon the Perspectives for learning models for this fall with 50 percent of the families choosing a Hybrid AB (MW of T/Th) schedule with siblings attending the same day and a close second choice was Remote Learning.
Hecht said 40 percent of parents indicated they would not send their child to kindergarten while 30 percent to 36 percent “are on the fence” concerning this issue She said 30% of the families are not comfortable with in-person learning but 52% of the parents indicted they would allow their child to participate in sports; parents weighed in against the wearing of masks, 42 percent in K-2, 24% at the Middle School and 20 percent at the High School.
Hecht noted that 75 percent of the parents stated they would like to participate in Meet the Teacher night, September Open House, Full parent/teacher conferences, CSE, RTL and 504 meetings via Google Meet if school does not return to normal in September.
Hecht said survey respondents unanimously agreed that if online learning is to be successful there must be wireless internet, a device and traditional school supplies readily available to the students.
Hecht said the community wants to see a consistent schedule with more face to face interaction with teachers, live and recorded lessons, training on Google Meet and other digital platforms, curriculum development to address the identified academic gaps and academic intervention support in an online learning environment. The survey highlighted the importance of addressing the social-emotional needs of students, making sure the district reviews their grading procedures, ensures classwork/homework/attendance accountability, having co-teaching in an online learning environment, adherence to IEPs, providing student access to technology and PPE and training for staff and students.
Brooks said the district is working to support school families with whatever they need on social, emotional and nutritional levels. “We all need to be in this together and remind ourselves that if we stay safe, if we stay healthy, if we stay clean and we stay with our masks on and stay distanced as much as possible, we will be able to get through this together,” he said. “While tonight is a beginning and you get an overview of our plan, I am committing to you that there will be a lot more communication during the month of August and certainly once we get into the fall, so that we can keep each other updated and up to speed.”