It’s all hands on deck preparing for back-to-school at Oceanside School District, with more than 100 teachers, staff members, parents and administrators from all schools participating in its Superintendent Task Force and focus groups.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced that schools must submit a plan for reopening to the state by July 31. Then, the state will decide whether it will allow schools to open their buildings to students in the fall. The governor will also release safety guidelines for schools early next week.
Oceanside School District began planning for the fall on June 1, when Superintendent Dr. Phyllis Harrington convened the task force, which is split up into four committees: operations, health and safety, communications and instruction.
There are 22 staff members working on operations, 27 on health and safety, six on communications and 63 educators on instruction. Each committee is broken up into several subcommittees to work on specified areas, such as special education, food services, athletics and more.
“We have been working very diligently for well over a month in anticipating what the guidelines will likely be and trying to be as proactive as possible,” Harrington told the Herald.
Since much is still unknown, the district is planning for three case scenarios — the worst, Harrington noted, being fully remote instruction. Teachers are collaborating to establish solid lesson plans that can be taught virtually.
The second case scenario would be partial remote instruction, called a “hybrid” model, where teachers are also setting up virtual lesson plans to coincide with in-person teaching. In both cases, committee members are reviewing feedback gathered through surveying parents and students about their experiences with online learning in the spring.
Harrington hopes, however, that children will be permitted to return to school. In that case, the load of planning shifts from the instruction to the operations and health and safety committees.
Operations oversees plans for facilities, technology infrastructure, food services, transportation and security. Health and safety is in charge of health-related guidelines, safety, social-emotional learning/mental health, Department of Community Activities and personnel management.
Those committees are anticipating state guidelines for social distancing and use of personal protective equipment, however, their final plans “are all dependent on what the governor ultimately says,” Harrington explained. “We're trying to think of every case scenario where we can minimize any risk in terms of proximity to other human beings.”
If a student, teacher or staff member contracted the virus, she also noted, the district will look to health professionals and the state to determine how to best handle that situation — and would have those protocols in place just in case.
Ultimately, the superintendent wishes the governor’s decision will be to have students in classrooms in the fall. “Learning is a contact sport,” she said. “We did the very best we could to shift to the remote world [in the spring], but at the end of the day, I really believe so strongly that kids need to be in school, working side by side with classmates and being facilitated by an expert teacher.”
Harrington acknowledged the anxiety parents are feeling not knowing the childrens’ plans for the fall. She said that once Cuomo announces his decision in early August, the district will release its final plans by the end of August. Also, the superintendent is conducting focus groups with different constituencies, including the Board of Education, school administrations, parents, teachers, school nurses, support staff, custodial staff and community representatives.
“I’m proud of what their work has been so far,” Harrington said, “and optimistic that we will have very well thought through plans.”
For more information, visit oceansideschools.org and click on “Planning for 2020-21 School Year (and other Covid-19 related updates).”