MASSENA — The Massena Central School District hopes to begin bringing students back to the classroom starting next week for in-person learning under revised state Department of Health guidelines. But some of the challenges they face are transportation and the number of students in the cafeteria.
Superintendent Patrick Brady and school principals outlined their plans during a virtual reopening meeting on Monday, and one of the topics was a reduction in physical distancing for students from 6 feet to 3 feet in classrooms.
“The requirement for social distancing on buses did not change with the Department of Health guidance. That’s one of our biggest challenges. Whereas we can move students from 6 feet to 3 feet in a classroom to get more students into a classroom, we can’t do the same on buses. We are still required to keep them socially distanced at 6 feet on buses,” Mr. Brady said.
“We’re going to find that we have a shortage, and we are going to have to rely on parents if they want their students to come back in some cases to transport their children to school. We recognize that can be a hardship for some, but it’s not something in our capacity that we can change,” he said.
Cafeterias, where tables have been replaced by desks, also pose a challenge.
“There’s also some work at some of our schools where, because they’re eating in the classroom, we’ll need to have some of them eating in the cafeteria by splitting the classes in some cases, half of them eating in the classroom and half of them eating in the cafeteria. Our principals are reaching out to parents to work with them on an individual basis to bring students back,” Mr. Brady said.
Massena, like other school districts, is reacting to revised Department of Health guidelines. One of the changes was the reduction in physical distancing between students in classrooms. However, adults must maintain 6 feet of social distance between themselves and students, as well as other adults. Six feet is also required when eating meals or drinking or other times when the mask is removed. It must also be maintained in common areas such as lobbies, hallways, cafeterias, gymnasiums and auditoriums.
“It’s been very challenging to try and educate students in a variety of different ways in a large school like Massena or really any school during the pandemic. I think throughout the school year we’ve added more students back within the guidelines that we had, and now we’re looking with the reduction to 3 feet in the classroom to get more students back,” Mr. Brady said.
He said individuals participating in activities that require projecting the voice, such as singing or playing a wind instrument, can be 6 feet apart.
“This used to be 12, so we’ve been able to make some changes to our music classes to allow students to sing in chorus, for example. It’s also been allowed in our phys ed classes to move students from 12 to 6 feet,” he said.
But, Mr. Brady said, moving from 6 feet to 3 feet “creates a particular challenge in our elementary schools, where we’ve been having children eating in the classroom. If we’re going to bring students back at 3 feet, they would need to be separated by 6 feet in order to eat.”
In order to make changes to the social distancing guidelines, Mr. Brady said they’re required to monitor the different transmission risk levels and adapt accordingly. Those levels are marked as low, moderate, substantial and high, and he said St. Lawrence County is currently at the substantial level. The levels are tracked on a seven-day rolling basis by county.
“It’s different per grade level, elementary versus middle versus high school. Because they’ve not seen the transmission as much in the elementary schools and less of a response medically from elementary students, there are less restrictions at the elementary level,” he said.
At substantial or high risk, elementary students can have at least 3 feet of physical distancing and cohorting is recommended. Cohorting is a group of students who move together within that group every day.
“It’s easier to cohort at the elementary level,” Mr. Brady said.
Cohorting is also done at the junior high.
“So we’re able to meet the 3 foot with the cohorting,” he said.
At the high school, however, there are no cohorts with the students in grades nine through 12. If the risk level is substantial, cohorting is recommended. If it’s high, cohorting is required.
“It’s much more challenging at the high school level to move students as a group from class to class. You may have freshmen in classes with sophomores and juniors. They have different electives going on,” Mr. Brady said.
He’ll be discussing the district’s reopening plan with the board of education when they meet on Thursday, and principals will be reaching out to parents to discuss returning their students four days per week.
“For some schools, that transition will start next week. For others like the junior high, it may take a little longer with some logistics. But we would like to see the students start to come back next week,” he said.