MASSENA — Because of its size, the Massena Central School District may have problems trying to bring back all of its students under the revised social distancing guidelines, if they decide to go that route.
The state Department of Health has reduced social distancing guidelines from 6 feet to 3 feet, but there are still issues to contend with, high school Principal Alan Oliver said in a video message to families.
“As we move into the end of the year, I need you to remember something. As all of our school districts around the county and around the community are getting this new guidance, we’re all going through the guidance and figuring out what’s possible for us. I want to say to the Massena community, as you see this unfold over the next months, you will find that Massena is going to have to be different than maybe some of the smaller schools that are around us. I want to make a very strong point that the reason for that is size,” said Mr. Oliver, who also serves as chair of the District’s Safety Committee.
He said most of the guidelines deal with “distance and space and where we can put things.”
“In a school district that’s graduating maybe 50 kids, it’s going to be a very different place than Massena, that’s graduating 200. Massena High School has over 800 students, which makes it larger than some of the school districts in their entirety that are around us. So the decisions we make are going to look different than what’s around us just due to our size,” he said.
He said parents might hear that small schools were able to have a regular prom and bring all of their students to graduation, something that will not be possible in Massena.
“That’s possible when you don’t have a huge crowd. I wanted to make that point because if you see a difference between us and everybody else, it’s because there’s a difference between us and everybody else,” Mr. Oliver said.
He said in most cases, Massena was two or three times the size of some neighboring school districts.
“Even our next closest ones around, Ogdensburg and Gouverneur, we’re bigger than both of those. So there is going to be some difference for us, and I apologize for that, but it is sort of the price for living in a bigger community,” he said.
Mr. Oliver noted that new Department of Health guidelines are based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.
“The revised guidelines let us reduce social distancing in a classroom to 3 feet as long as we’re masked, and reduces the distance in music classrooms for chorus and band from 12 feet to 6 feet. So those things are very good. They sound great when you hear them. A person might say, ‘Well, 3 feet of social distancing, we can bring everybody back to school,’” he said.
But that’s easier said than done.
“The problem that we’re looking at is other major things haven’t changed in the guidance. The rules for transportation haven’t changed, which means there’s only so many kids we can put on a bus. The rules in the cafeteria haven’t changed, which means we still need to provide 6 feet of social distancing when they’re eating, which is very tight in our cafeteria. So, as we move forward, what I want to say about these revised guidelines is they’re kind of the jury’s still out. We’re still talking about these things as a district,” Mr. Oliver said.
He said he would run out of space in the cafeteria if they were to provide 6 feet of social distancing for all of the students.
“Plus, the desks that are in the cafeteria that the kids are sitting at are the same ones I need to put in the classroom if we’re going to increase classroom capacity,” he said.
Mr. Oliver said they would do whatever they could to accommodate more students, “but the decisions aren’t going to happen today and we would need to get public input on all of this as well. If we make a decision or attempt to go to 3 feet of social distancing and bring a bunch of kids back, we’re going to have to go out to the public and see if that’s something you’d want us to do.”
“Modified plans must be posted online and opportunity for community input and feedback must be provided. Final modified plans must be shared with Local Health Departments and the State Education Department,” Superintendent Patrick Brady said in his board of education update. “We are in the process of analyzing this information and will be meeting with local superintendents this week to consider our options based on these guidelines. Despite the changes, busing and student meals will be key challenges to changing current practices.”