CANTON — Question marks still punctuate much of K-12 reopening plans nationwide about a month before the 2020-21 school year is set to begin.
After statewide school closures in mid-March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, draft reopening plans from districts across New York are due to the state Education Department on Friday.
In a special meeting Monday, the Canton Central School District Board of Education discussed a summary of Canton Central’s draft reopening plan, which describes potential instructional models varying by school, food and transportation, as well as COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
Superintendent Ronald P. Burke and board members acknowledged the possibility and the unknown timeframe of another partial shutdown or potential district closure and are anticipating public health and state mandates for the north country region this fall, even a full closure of schools in the region before the school year starts.
Board member Eileen Raymond said she hopes the school year can at least begin with in-person learning so students, particularly primary school children, have a chance to meet their new teachers and get used to using technology-based learning with initial in-person assistance.
“If any staff can do it, our staff can, but I really hope we don’t have to put that challenge out in front of them because it’s going to be a Herculean effort, to do that and do it well,” Mr. Burke said of a cold start to remote learning. “I know we’re not perfect, I certainly don’t pretend that we are, but again, if anyone can do it I know Canton can.”
Overall, the district plans to adopt a hybrid model of instruction, a mix of in-person learning and remote, online learning, with the ratio of in-person to remote instruction differing by age group. District families will have the option of sending students to school on in-person learning days or maintaining a completely remote schedule. Decisions, which can be different for students within the same household, are due to the district by Aug. 7.
According to the draft reopening plan, families initially choosing remote instruction will only be allowed to switch to in-person instruction at the end of each quarter. A move to remote instruction may be made any time this fall by providing notice to the relevant school principal.
For in-person learners at F.S. Banford Elementary in pre-K through fourth grade, the board expressed support for a 4-1 plan, which would involve four days of in-person learning each week and a remote learning day, potentially every Wednesday. Pre-K and kindergarten students would attend school four half days each week, and first- to fourth-grade students would complete four full days.
Though fifth-graders are enrolled at J.M. McKenney Middle School, the draft plan discussed Monday indicates fifth-grade students may be grouped with elementary students and participate in the 4-1 model.
The draft plan anticipates sixth- to 12th-graders at both McKenney and Hugh C. Williams High School will participate in an A-B alternating schedule, with two full days of in-person learning and three days of remote learning each week.
For all families opting for complete remote instruction, activities for younger children and assignments for older children and teenagers will be facilitated by teachers through online platforms, and “families will be expected to support their students in completion of their daily lessons and assignments,” the plan reads in part. A system for distributing Chromebooks and other devices to students who need them is already in place.
“This is a true partnership,” Mr. Burke said. “When we do remote learning, there’s an enormous amount of responsibility that falls back on the families.”
Based on the district’s original survey distributed to families earlier this summer, Mr. Burke said he anticipates 10 to 15 percent of the student body will be opting for completely remote learning.
“If those numbers change dramatically, that very well may change our ability to offer in-person,” Mr. Burke said, adding that a final survey will be distributed by early next week.
The district’s health and safety guidelines include limiting all school visitors to those conducting essential school business, requiring face masks for staff, students and visitors, requiring daily health screenings and temperature assessments for employees and asking families to conduct health screenings before students get to school. An additional temperature screening is also planned for all staff, students and visitors upon entry into any school building.
Other guidelines involve reduced class sizes, daily sanitation, social distancing measures and limited extracurricular activities, to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Updated July 16, 145 pages of state Education Department guidance serves as the baseline for districts drafting reopening plans, which must incorporate several components and address 13 categories: health and safety, facilities, nutrition, transportation, social and emotional well-being, school schedules, budget, attendance and chronic absenteeism, technology and connectivity, teaching and learning, special education, bilingual education and world languages, staffing and human resources.
With the St. Lawrence County Public Health Department and Director Dana McGuire, Mr. Burke said the district will be continuing to work on its plan this week. The draft summary is viewable on the district’s website, and the full, 70- to 100-page fluid plan will be viewable Friday.