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Many schools eye hybrid reopening plan

School districts across New York submitted their plans to return to school to the state Department of Education on Friday.

However, according to Dr. Kevin Whitaker, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, districts did not have to have their full plans in detail to the state by July 31 — just different assurances that guidelines released on July 13 would be met and communicated to school communities.

“In the ensuing two weeks, the state was reasonably responsive to superintendents who said we could effectively give them a plan but it will be a fake plan, it will be a hollow plan because we’re probably going to modify it over the course of August as we get ready to do this,” he said. “They changed it from “upload document here” to “insert the webpage where your plans will be.” Now, they can just review straight to the webpage and get their materials as they are updated.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo ultimately has the final call, however, but districts are to proceed as though their plan is approved.

“At some point, he’ll look at everything and say, ‘Thumbs up, thumbs down,'” Whitaker said. “They also told us to assume that our plan is approved unless you hear otherwise. Everybody who submits is approved and starting to roll.”

Dunkirk City School District Superintendent Michael Mansfield said Friday that the district will release their reopening plan in the coming days.

“We’re still putting the finishing touches on our official submission,” he said. “It will go to the state later tonight with the link on the website. We’ve had all of our committees and they have worked to get and do the assurances and have gotten us ready over the next two or three weeks for a detailed plan. It’s going to take us that long to have a solid plan in place.”

Like other districts across Chautauqua County, Dunkirk is looking toward a hybrid model, utilizing elements of both in-person and remote instruction.

“We don’t know how much in-person instruction we can offer yet,” Mansfield said. “We did a parent survey, had a very good response and had over a half of our families responding. Now we need to find as many of the other half as we can and find what their thoughts are to get an idea of what our students and parents are thinking in terms of in-person and if people are going to send their kids.”

The “assurances” do require a lot of attention to detail and the district is doing its due diligence in addressing them, he said.

“Some of them, when you start talking about your schedules, your instructional plans and the health and safety is so large,” he said. “Even though we have a lot of the work done, there’s still more to do. Those are the ones that are still more detailed. … We want all of that information before we put a finalized plan out. We want to provide for every family as best we can to make sure that we get the best educational opportunities for every student. That takes time.”

Pine Valley Central School is one of the schools planning to adopt a hybrid approach, according to its superintendent, Bryna Moritz Booth. Students will be in the classroom from Monday through Thursday. On Friday, the district will do a deep clean of the building.

“We had at least 12 stakeholder groups based around different topics and surveyed communities, staff and teachers,” she said. “We met with administrative group and met with the board of education.”

Of larger concern to her district is the fact that 31% of the student population is unable to get internet.

“It’s not a question of if they can afford it, it’s a question of if they have access,” she said. “There are parts of the district that there’s no access to Verizon or AT&T or Windstream.”

To address that during the remote learning that took place from March to June in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the district gave each student two jump drives.

“We already have a one-to-one device ratio,” Booth said. “Teachers loaded videos and assignments and lessons onto a folder and delivered them by bus so students could have assignments to work on. Then the students would turn in assignments that way.”

This year the district will provide three jump drives per student.

“It’s been quite a process,” she said. “Right now, we’re working on coming up with a better plan in case we have to close for this year. For our four days on, print-based materials will be available for students on that Friday off and then teachers will have office hours where they can call teachers. We just want to give students enough guidance and keep them safe.”

Booth was also grateful to the stakeholders that worked with the district to help them come up with this plan.

“They’ve had a student-first focus and so supportive and the board has been wonderful and brainstormed ideas and asked a lot of questions,” she said. “Everyone came together and rallied and been very supportive. We’re excited about this coming school year and to hopefully have students in-person again.”

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