NORFOLK — Nearly 30 people, including parents, teachers, administrators and board of education members, tuned in for a special Zoom chat this week with Norwood-Norfolk Central School Superintendent James Cruikshank.
During the session, which lasted just over an hour, Mr. Cruikshank discussed district plans to reopen school and answered questions from the participants.
“Tonight my goal is really to answer your questions. It’s not to convince you one way or another. You have a very big decision. I understand that. I simply want to provide you with as much information as possible. We want to support mom, dad and kids any way we can,’ he said.
Mr. Cruikshank detailed the process that led to the district’s proposed reopening plan, using guidance from the state Education Department, Department of Health, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as suggestions that emerged from regional superintendent and local school committee meetings.
The district’s plan was submitted by the July 31 deadline to the state Education Department and Department of Health.
“Whether we are opening or not, we had to have them in to state Education and the Department of Health,” he said.
The goal was to reopen their doors in September 100 percent of the time for all students. But, Mr. Cruikshank said, that wasn’t possible for many districts, including Norwood-Norfolk.
“When we look at the guidance, for us, in order to bring everyone back in, we had to essentially ensure that we could meet the mandate and the guidelines to socially distance all of our students. In doing so, we quickly found out that we had a limiting factor, and that was space. In order to bring 100 percent of our students back 100 percent of the time, space was the issue,” he said.
In developing a plan to bring some students back for in-person instruction, he said the state Education Department had prioritized certain groups, such as students with disabilities and Career and Technical Education students who were attending Seaway Tech.
“Seaway Tech looked. They could take all of the students that were enrolled in Seaway Tech 100 percent of the time. So if we have a student enrolled in Seaway Tech, they’re going to be participating in that program when scheduled by BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services),” Mr. Cruikshank said.
“Those are two groups that state Ed prioritized. Then they challenged us to find other groups to prioritize and bring them in all the time,” he said.
Among the discussions was the lack of child day care, with six children for every one slot. That led them to make a decision to bring back all elementary school students.
“We are able to socially distance and bring them in, all of them, 100 percent of the time. With that said, we looked at the middle and high school and at this time we cannot prioritize those grades unless they’re in CTE or special ed because we just don’t have the space,” he said.
However, they did decide to bring in all fifth-graders, and the remainder of the students would be on an A or B schedule, with everyone taking part in remote learning on Wednesdays.
“That was the best way to ensure that we could socially distance the students coming in,” Mr. Cruikshank said.
Then, as time went on, they could prioritize which other students could be brought back.
“Essentially we didn’t want to start with a plan this big and then have to tell people, ‘I’m sorry, we have to shrink it.’ We wanted to start with what we knew we could do and expand it if and when possible. Ultimately our goal is to bring our kids back 100 percent of the time, period. But right now, we’re just limited by the conditions that are before us,” he said.
Students returning to school will be required to wear masks except for meals and infrequent “mask breaks” under guidance received by the district.
“I think that teachers recognize mask breaks have to be incorporated, but they have to do it in a way that meets the mandate. We’re going to do that as infrequently as possible. Every time you take the mask off, there is a risk of exposure,” Mr. Cruikshank said.