Rochester schools to begin year with 10 weeks of remote learning

The Rochester City School District announced Aug. 14 that it will utilize a remote learning model for the first 10 weeks of school, even though Gov. Andrew Cuomo stated Aug. 7 that New York’s COVID-19 levels are low enough statewide for schools to reopen this fall.

For the 2020-21 school year that begins Sept. 9, the district originally had planned to offer a hybrid model, combining in-person classes with some remote learning, and all-remote learning for certain students. That model was detailed in RCSD’s reopening plan, which was presented during a July 30 board of education meeting.

At that time, RCSD Superintendent Leslie Myers-Small noted that families with concerns about sending their students back to school had the option of choosing a 100-percent remote-learning alternative. The district asked families to submit their preferences for the hybrid model or 100-percent remote learning to their students’ schools no later than mid August.

But during an Aug. 14 press conference, Myers-Small announced that all students would instead begin the year by remote learning.

After revisiting the three the learning models outlined in the original plan, Myers-Small said, the district made its decision based on such factors as the responses of parents and caregivers who opted for the remote-learning model over the hybrid model; feedback received from employees, families and the Rochester Board of Education; and evidence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that some racial and ethnic minority groups are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

The revised reopening plan still calls for providing school meals to students through partnerships with such city-based organizations as Foodlink, and discusses how computers and internet access will be provided for the students. The district also will continue to address the social and emotional well-being of students, faculty and staff through resources and referrals, Myers-Small said, and such additional supports as a dedicated hot line for individuals experiencing crisis are being created.

During the Aug. 14 press conference, Myers-Small said the decision to go all-remote for 10 weeks ultimately was hers and that she felt confident that strengthening the remote-learning model will ensure the safety of RCSD students as well as their families. Describing the plan for this fall as “remote learning 2.0,” she said various partnerships with the City of Rochester, SUNY Brockport and others will support all aspects of learning, emotional and social well-being, as well as recreational opportunities for students. The 10 weeks of online instruction will be a combination of synchronous and asynchronous classes to accommodate student schedules.

Myers-Small said that teachers and administrators will receive training on revised policies for remote learning and what a virtual classroom embodies.

Telephone and online support will be provided for students with special education needs, as well as English-Language Learners and bilingual students, and distance learning for these students will be provided based on their needs and grade levels via Microsoft Teams, Google Meet or Zoom.

Through the district’s partnership with the city’s Department of Recreation and Youth Services, students will have access to 12 recreation centers across the city. Nine of the centers will offer learning labs for students in kindergarten through grade 6, Dr. Daniele J. Lyman-Torres, DYRS commissioner, said Aug. 14.

During learning-lab sessions from 8-10 a.m. and 10 a.m to noon, students will be able to speak with RCSD personnel about assignments and also receive breakfast. Although the centers are not officially day care centers, Myers-Small said the facilities will help parents who had expressed concerns about child care needs. The centers also will serve dinner for students who need it and offer opportunities for such recreational activities as swimming.

Lyman-Torres said each recreational facility will be sanitized and follow state safety and health guidelines, including social distancing, mandatory face coverings, and health screenings as requirements for entry. Masks will be provided for those who do not have them, she added.

To address attendance issues and avoid chronic absenteeism, daily social and emotional check-in activities will be instituted for students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12, Myers-Small said, adding that any failures by students to check in will be recorded so that the students can be re-engaged.

As the school year begins, the district will monitor the city’s plans for contact tracing — which identifies the network of people who may have come into contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 — and other related data, Myers-Small said, adding that the district intends to pivot to the hybrid model after 10 weeks if it is safe to do so.

“This is the question that I think every superintendent is getting asked locally, regionally, statewide and across the nation: ‘How can you assure parents students are truly safe while they are in school,’ and we can’t,” Myers-Small said. “We do the best that we can to adhere to the guidelines to make sure that we’re masking, that we’re socially distancing and that we’re hand sanitizing.”

In preparation for reopening, the state requires all school districts in the state to do the following:

• Post their remote learning, testing and contact tracing plans online.

• Schedule five discussion sessions with parents and caregivers before Aug. 21.

• Schedule a discussion session with staff before Aug. 21.

The district will host its first parent forum on Saturday, Aug. 15 at 1 p.m. via Zoom.

Families also are advised to check the district’s website regularly for updates throughout the rest of the summer and school year for more details, and to update the contact information they have on file with the district, since the district will use that information to communicate important updates via automated phone calls, email and letters.

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