Can Schools Bring Students Back Safely by September? (Editorial)
In an editorial last week regarding Governor Cuomo's re-opening of schools, I wrote about how there is not enough time, money, staff and resources for schools to be prepared to open for in-person instruction. Unfortunately, this fear has become a reality at districts around the area.
With schools still being forced to modify their plans, tweak safety policies, and find the time to deal with transportation, staff and online instruction, it seems impossible to avoid an opening that won't be chaotic and/or disastrous.
Look at other schools around the country that have opened, only to be shut down after the first day because of COVID-19 outbreaks. Or the schools reporting frustration over the hybrid model as teachers attempt to instruct in-person and remotely from the same classroom at the same time.
On Wednesday, the Rome City School District announced that they can not safely follow the plan they submitted to New York State and they've decided to go 100 percent remote learning until the end of October. They'll reassess the virus situation in October to determine how to proceed after that. That wasn't an easy decision, but it was most likely the right one.
Superintendent of Schools, Peter C. Blake cited staffing issues and the inability to clean and sterilize buildings and classrooms, as well as the shortage of qualified nurses, accessible COVID-19 tests, accurate results from those tests, and the inability to stop asymptomatic spread. Blake said the district can not responsibly open in September using the hybrid model.
In Syracuse, the teachers union is voting on Wednesday on whether the district should delay in-person learning until after November 9th, according to Syracuse.com. The union president, Bill Scott told the newspaper, "We're just not ready to do this safely." Several other Syracuse area schools have announced that they're delaying the start of school for the same reasons, according to Syracuse.com.
What did you expect Governor Cuomo?
What New York is asking schools to do is the equivalent of telling everybody: starting tomorrow at noon, we're going to the British model of driving on our roads and highways. As a result, all motorists will have to start driving on the left side of the road and we'll figure out the steering wheel problem at a later date. And by the way, we're also reconstructing all of the roads, so the maps and GPS you currently use will no longer work. Rolling out a plan like this would be a disaster.
I don't want to come off as a conspiracy theorist, but it almost seems that with the restrictions placed on schools and forcing them to come up with their own reopening plans, the whole thing was destined for failure from the beginning. Of course, this misstep wouldn't be the Governor's fault. It would be the inept plans that each district put together for their launch. Just like it was each schools's fault when earlier this week, the state embarrassed over 100 districts because they didn't submit their reopening plans exactly as required. Instead of contacting them, a press release was sent out to the media making it look as if they just ignored Governor Cuomo's deadline. That was pretty unfair when you consider how hard these schools are working to figure this out.
The fact is, we are not ready to do this safely. New York State guidelines make it nearly impossible for most school districts to proceed with in-person instruction beginning next month. It requires a complete reinvention of a system that's been in place for 70 years.
Kudos to the Rome School District. The decision to revert back to distance learning for the time being was a brave one. Let's be honest, there will be several angry parents (many with daycare issues) who will vehemently disagree. But that's so much better than reopening an entire district in-person when you know full well, it is impossible to follow all of the state guidelines and ultimately guarantee the safety of teachers, students and staff.
To be fair, no school district has ever been able to guarantee everyone's safety at a rate of 100 percent. Over the years, there have been many challenges from natural disasters to extreme violence. But when danger shows its' face, we have been able to react and adapt and do whatever it takes to make sure every single person, young and old, is as safe as they possibly can be. My hope is that we're continuing that tradition when school begins on September 8th. My fear, is that in many school districts, we won't be.