On Wednesday, July 29, more than 600 people tuned into BH-BL’s YouTube channel to watch a live stream of the Reopening Schools Forum #2 where Superintendent Dr. Patrick McGrath shared the district’s reopening plan and addressed parents’ questions. Since that time the forum recording has more than 2,000 views. Residents were encouraged to use a Google Form shared with them to submit questions before and during the forum. In all, McGrath along with Assistant Superintendents Dave Collins and Christopher Adboo and Human Resources Director Mike Nickson responded to the more than 250 submitted questions.
The full Reopening Plan was submitted to the state on July 31 and is available here.
The plan outlines the instructional models that will be offered at BH-BL for at least the beginning of the 2020-21 school year: Fully Virtual School (grades 1-12) or In-person (grades 1-5)/Hybrid (grades 6-12) School. Also, included in the plan are the health and safety measures the district will implement to ensure it adheres to guidelines set forth by the state, such as health screenings before entering a building, social distancing/masks, and rigorous cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
“Full implementation of this plan in an incredibly complex undertaking,” explains McGrath. “We are all staying focused on the big picture at this point as we continue to define the myriad of details that will come next, such as schedules, pick-up and drop-off procedures, transportation routes, to name a few. Much of that will be predicated on the instructional model parents select and how many students will need school bus transportation.”
In developing the Reopening Plan, feedback from the parent survey was incorporated and school leaders consulted with each building principal & Building Councils members. They also worked with the Board of Education, Teachers’ Association, Special Services and sought input from the directors of the transportation, food service, buildings & grounds, technology, and facilities/custodial departments.
“With nearly 100 percent participation in the parent survey and valuable feedback from staff, we feel confident the proposed instructional models provides us with a master plan that meets the needs of our community, our staff and most of all our students, while staying in compliance with the Board of Regents requirements, the NYSED directives, and the NYS DOH guidance,” adds McGrath.
Making a School Choice
The district has settled on a structural model for reopening which involves a choice for parents. The options are described below. Because of the complexity of the design and the reliance on actual enrollment numbers, many of the details of the specific models are still being worked out. Developments of the details will continually be updated on the district’s website in the coming weeks. It is our hope that the information provided below as well as the details available in the Reopening School Choice Parent Guide will provide enough information to enable parents to make the choice of which instructional option is appropriate for their family. Parents should also feel free to reach out to their child’s school principal with specific questions.
Parents are being asked to make a decision by Monday, Aug. 10 as to which instructional model they’ll choose. An electronic School Registration form will be emailed to all parents on Monday, Aug. 3. One form must be completed for each child. The confidential form will ask parents to indicate their preference for an instructional model for each child enrolled in the district for 2020-21 school year. The form will also ask parents their plans about transportation and food services.
Reopening Plan School Choice Options
Option #1: Fully Virtual School
Students enrolled in the virtual option would receive full instruction in all core/required classes covering the same material that will be covered in person. Additionally, virtual instruction will support all Board of Regents requirements for quality and duration of instruction, and will also address requirements for the daily attendance of students. All requirements of students’ Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) will also be met.
“We learned a lot from our spring remote learning period,” says Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction Dave Collins. “Our teachers reflected on this experience and have provided us with some great insight into how remote learning could proceed most effectively. And professional development in technology and pedagogy is ongoing.”
The schedule and structure of the virtual experience will be designed by each level (elementary and secondary). The design will take into account the following:
- Interfacing with the “in-person” school instruction as needed to provide similar experiences for students (i.e., specials, electives, singletons, acceleration, etc.);
- students in the virtual school and the in-person school should be progressing at a similar pace, which would allow them to join back together seamlessly in the future;
- and adhering to NYSED requirement for assuring “daily attendance” of students.
If this model is selected, the district is asking that elementary parents commit to it for the first trimester (through November 30) and that middle and high school parents/students commit to it for the first semester (through January 29, 2021). The plan would be re-evaluated at the end of the specified time period, at which time, students would have the option to transfer back to in-person instruction. It should be noted that depending on the numbers of students transferring and the requirements of the Department of Health at that time, transfers could affect the scheduling of in-person instruction.
Elementary School Information
The Fully Virtual School at the elementary level will be staffed by a faculty of BH-BL elementary teachers from throughout the district for the period of remote learning. Students from each elementary school will mix together in the virtual setting. When the crisis is over and students return to regular in-person attendance, they will return to their home schools. It is projected that the virtual elementary school will have roughly 13 to 15 total sections (based upon actual registrations). It may be necessary to have some multi-grade level sections.
Given the potential size of the virtual school the district is considering a Virtual School Principal.
Middle & High School Information
The exact structure of the middle and high schools virtual option is still under consideration. Some elective options at the secondary level may not be available in the virtual model, although the district will work hard to accommodate important electives.
Option #2: In-person (grade 1-5)/Hybrid (grades 6-12)
This option would involve in-person instruction in strict adherence to the Governor’s and NYS Department of Health Guidelines and NYSED Guidelines for Reopening, which would include screening prior to entering a building, social distancing/masks, and rigorous cleaning and disinfecting procedures. The district has multiple teams working to ensure that these guidelines are adhered to carefully. Specific details on these safety guidelines will be provided in the district’s official reopening plan and posted on the district website on Friday, July 31.
Under the In-person option, students in grades 1-5 would attend school every weekday. Students in grades 6-12 would attend school in-person some days and virtually other days on a rotating basis. (Exact scheduling is yet to be determined.) Using this model, the district is confident it can commit to student groups of no larger than 12 to 14 at all levels in most classroom settings.
In the early planning stages, the district was considering postponing the start of kindergarten until January. However, based on parental feedback the kindergarten program is now included in the Reopening Plan. The district’s square footage limitations, however, do make it impossible to hold kindergarten everyday without shifting students in other grades to other district buildings or reducing the number of in-person instructional days for other grade levels. There would be a great deal of complexity and disruption caused by this shift. For these reasons, the district has committed to developing an alternating day kindergarten schedule to begin the year. This would likely be a cohort of kindergarten students attending in-person school on Mondays and Wednesdays and every other Friday, while the other cohort attends in-person school on Tuesday and Thursdays and every other Friday.
“We realize the scheduling and financial challenges this option could place on families,” says McGrath. “At this point, however, there is no way to have daily full day kindergarten and maintain a daily routine for students in grades 1-5. Although we will be starting the kindergarten school year on an alternating schedule, we will be looking for every opportunity to move our youngest and newest students back to full time as soon as possible.”
To assist families of kindergarteners, the district is currently reaching out to community daycare centers and licensed childcare providers to see if they’ll be able to offer a kindergarten program that supplements the district’s program on alternating days. Additionally, the district is looking into possible financial resources and grants to help with the financial burden this could place on families.
Grades 1-5 Information
The elementary in-person instruction model is not finalized, but the preliminary ideas include:
- Each student section would be divided into two groups (“pods”) of approximately 12 students.
- Each teacher section would have two spaces identified in the elementary building which will be considered this section’s “home spaces.”
- Elementary students would eat their lunch in their home spaces.
- Students would have specials, PE, and recess on a daily basis.
- In order to accommodate the extensive routines involved with pick up and drop off, it is possible that there may be changes to the length of the elementary school day.
Grades 6-12 Information
Based upon the numbers projected by the survey, the middle and high schools will be forced into a hybrid in-person model (every other day or equivalent) in order to stay compliant with the current Department of Health guidelines. If these guidelines change significantly, it will affect our in-person schedule.
While the in-person hybrid model is still under development, certain aspects have been established:
- Students will receive high-quality instruction every day–whether they are in-person or at home.
- Student attendance will be taken on a daily basis for both in-person and remote students
- The middle school schedule will likely be the same week to week but the high school will follow a six day rotation.
It’s important to note that the instructional models were developed based on the data from the parent survey indicating 70 percent of parents are intending to have their children participate in the in-person hybrid school while 30 percent would select the fully virtual school. If these enrollment figures change drastically, meaning more parents choose the In-person/Hybrid model, school leaders will need to revisit the plans and make adjustments accordingly.