Bedford School District students in all grades will return to in-person learning five days a week on Monday Apr. 12 after a strong majority of parents supported the move in a recent survey.
The decision, released last week, will have its largest impact on students in grades 3-12, since most children in grades K-2 have had full-time in-school instruction since September. Most students starting in third grade have been on a hybrid schedule this year that has alternated between two and three days of remote learning and coming to school each week depending on the cohort.
“We’re committed to doing it and wanting to do it right,” said Amy Fishkin, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. “So, we’re rolling up our sleeves to do the hard work because it’s the right thing to do for kids.”
Fishkin and Dr. Edward Escobar, Bedford’s director of pupil personnel services, presented a detailed full-time re-entry plan to the Board of Education last Wednesday. The plan requires up to six feet of space between desks, or barriers between students if that distance cannot be achieved, and mask wearing for everyone at all times except when eating. Daily health screening will continue and an emphasis on hygiene will also be emphasized.
A survey of parents with children in grades 3-12 this winter found that about 75 percent of the 2,234 respondents favored a return to full-time in-school instruction. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joel Adelberg said that the responses closely mirrored the proportion of students currently in the hybrid model and those that are fully remote.
Families must decide by this Friday whether they will commit to five-day-a-week in-class instruction for their children or to continue or switch to a full remote schedule for the remainder of the school year, Adelberg said.
He said students have not seen each other in person the entire school year.
“That’s why we’re doing this, to get all kids together so they’re in one mode of learning, back in a classroom pre-COVID, but with some precautions and some necessary things we can do to mitigate any risk,” Adelberg said.
Each student in the hybrid model will have two days of in-person learning the week of Apr. 5. followed by an asynchronous learning day for all 3-12 students on Apr. 9.
For some students in grades 3-5, there may be teacher changes depending on the split of children that are live and remote. Livestreaming of classes will continue at the middle school and high school. Outdoor spaces will be used as much as possible for instruction and lunch.
There will not be an opportunity for families to change their decision, although if quarantining is still necessary, a student will switch to remote learning for that period of time without penalty, Fishkin noted.
“We want kids to be in school, so we want you to really think carefully with your parents, your family to make the right choice for you,” Fishkin said. “The goal is not to have families waver and change their mind and change their commitment at some point.”
To accommodate a return of all students, each school has had ventilation upgrades with the installation of MERV-13 filters and air purification systems, which mixes fresh and recirculated air. Classroom windows will be open as much as possible and daily cleaning and disinfection will continue.
Capacity on school buses will be capped at 50 to 60 percent. School officials are encouraging parents who would like to drive their children or have them walk, if possible. Some adjustments to arrival and dismissal schedules may be needed to limit congestion. About 66 percent of survey respondents requested district transportation.
School officials stressed that the district must receive cooperation from the entire community for the plan to work. That means students must not only follow the guidelines while in school but families need to be responsible in their own time.
“This is incredibly exciting to open up the doors to more students, but I ask all of us to not take it as an invitation to let our guard down but to let our students thrive in the schools by doing what we’ve been doing,” said board member Michael Bauscher.
In many ways, the full reopening will be like the first day of school again, Adelberg said.
“(This) is like the new day after Labor Day,” he said.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/