Answer depends on the state; regional and statewide groups are studying the possibilities
While the ultimate decision rests with the state and governor, educators regionally and across the state are working on plans to safely reopen schools this fall while everyone wears masks and maintains social distancing.
In mid-March, as the threat of coronavirus/COVID-19 infection was growing statewide, all schools were ordered closed and education for the balance of the 2019-20 year moved to a remote online situation. Teachers and students met regularly online to collaborate and complete coursework, a less than ideal situation in an educational world that thrives on face-to-face contact for teaching.
Scotia-Glenville Superintendent Susan Swartz sits on the regional group of superintendents studying the reopening of school this fall. The NYS Board of Regents has also assembled a group of educators and others to study the reopening.
Cuomo sets guidelines
Gov. Cuomo announced on July 13 that schools would be allowed to reopen under several guidelines developed by the state Education and Health departments. If the community infection rate is less than 5% over a 14 day average (as of this writing, the community infection rate is 0.9%), then schools could remain open.
He also said that schools would be closed if the community infection rate reaches 9% using a 7 day average. Scotia-Glenville has until July 31 to submit a formal reopening plan to the state.
Cuomo expects to make the first decision about school reopening during the week of Aug. 1-7 by checking the infection rates across the state. He said it would be monitored continuously until and after schools reopen.
‘New Normal” for schools
The “new normal” for schools would likely present many challenges this fall, if schools are allowed to reopen:
- Common areas, such as gymnasiums, auditoriums and cafeterias, would be off-limits – Students would eat in their classrooms and teachers would move from class to class between periods instead of students moving. They would be allowed to individually leave the classroom to go to lockers or to the bathroom
- Mask wearing – one of the more difficult issues would be how to enforce mask/shield wearing. If a 5 year old, who likes to touch everything and everyone, takes his or her mask off, does the teacher ask them to put it back on? Send him or her to the office? Call his or her parents? What if a 15 year old does the same thing?
- Transportation – getting students to school every day. Parents could drop them off. But for students who take the buses, they will need to be socially distanced and wear masks on the bus. Most likely, every third row of a bus would be used and students would not sit next to each other. That would decrease the capacity to around 10 students. With 2,500 students at Scotia-Glenville, it would take a long time to get students to school every day.
- Health checks – do students and staff undergo daily temperature checks? This is being done by many private companies but it is unclear whether that would become the norm at schools. Parents may be asked to check their children’s temperatures before they send them to school; if a child is found to have a temperature or other symptoms of coronavirus, the school would expect the child to remain at home.
- Visitors to schools. It is likely there will be some limitations on what visitors are allowed in the schools this fall. They may need to be temperature/symptom checked before entering the school.
- Classrooms this fall – there are a few scenarios about how classrooms may look this fall. Here are a few. Scotia-Glenville will use the website and Blackboard Connect system to keep you updated on the latest information as we get closer to the start of school on September 8.
Here are the most commonly discussed scenarios:
- All students return to school, though in classrooms with fewer students. Classrooms may have a maximum of 10 students, wearing face masks or shields, taught by teachers who are also wearing masks or shields. A typical classroom of 20 students would be located in two locations, perhaps connected remotely with the teacher. Classrooms and common areas would be cleaned and sanitized regularly.
- Elementary students may return to school while older students continue learning at home. This scenario would allow the youngest children to be taken care of during the day, at school, while the other students would only come into school for hands-on subjects, like science labs, family and consumer science or tech classes. While in school, students would be wearing face masks or shields, taught by teachers who are also wearing masks or shields. Classrooms and common areas would be cleaned and sanitized regularly.
- Students attend every other day. This scenario would have students attend school every other day with remote learning on the alternating days. Or students would attend alternatively on Mondays/Tuesdays and Thursdays/Fridays with every Wednesday being an at-home learning day. Students would be wearing face masks or shields while in school, taught by teachers who are also wearing masks or shields. Classrooms and common areas would be cleaned and sanitized regularly.
- A hybrid/blended version, in which some students return to school while others remain at home and learn remotely. this option would lessen the number of students at school each day. Students would be wearing face masks or shields while in school, taught by teachers who are also wearing masks or shields. Classrooms and common areas would be cleaned and sanitized regularly.
- All students are educated at home, similar to how they were from March to June. This scenario, while doable, would not be supported by most educators and many students. The social connection of school is completely lost. Many parents do not want to return to at-home schooling, where they were forced to be full-time teachers while trying to perform their own jobs. However, some parents and staff may also be afraid to return to school without guarantees of absolute safety, which would be hard to provide, or a vaccine.
Governor Cuomo, on July 6, noted that the residents of the state have successfully controlled the spread of coronavirus, but he is concerned with the climbing numbers in other parts of the country and whether that will spread back to New York.
“We obviously very much would like to,” Cuomo said, referring to students returning to schools this fall.
“Nobody even knows the effect that this is going to have on students, socialization of young students, et cetera. We want kids back in school for a number of reasons, but we’re not going to say children should go back to school until we know it’s safe.”
New York is recovering well, the governor said, with significant and sustained progress since he began easing restrictions and allowing regional re-openings on May 15. He hopes that progress continues in the future.
Once an effective, safe vaccine is developed, schools may be able to return to a more recognizable “normal.”