Byram Hills School District officials this week reached consensus to have children in grades K-6 attend in-person classes five days a week while secondary-level students will have a hybrid schedule when school resumes in September.
The recommended plan to have the youngest children and special education students return to school full-time is one of three scenarios that the district is submitting in its reopening plan that all districts across the state must turn in to the state Education Department (SED) by Friday. It also has an all-remote learning option as well as a full return to school for all students.
Under Byram Hills’ preferred plan, children in each class in grades K-5 will be split into two groups and placed in adjacent classrooms to ensure social distancing, explained Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jen Lamia. The teacher and aides will shuttle back and forth between the two rooms to provide a roughly equal amount of time and attention to each group of students, Lamia said.
Masks will be required throughout much of the school day, although there will be time for children to be able to take them off, the superintendent said.
Lamia said that the preference to have five days of in-school instruction for younger students is because they are less suited to learning on a computer for an entire school day.
“Students, especially at the elementary levels, do not necessarily have the learning disposition to be sitting on a computer and doing their work at home,” Lamia said. “That work is better formulated by either another teacher or a teacher aide under the direction of the classroom teacher who is overseeing that instruction or that independent work.”
There will be block scheduling of classes, and music, art, special education and academic support teachers will travel to the classroom to limit student movement within the buildings.
Students at the K-2 Coman Hill Elementary School will start their day at 9:10 a.m. and be dismissed at 3:10 p.m. while Wampus Elementary School, which houses grades 3-5, will be in school from 8:35 a.m. to 3:05 p.m. On Wednesdays there will be an early release at 11:30 a.m. for all elementary school students to allow for teacher preparation time in the afternoon, Lamia said.
Sixth-grade students at H.C. Crittenden Middle School will also be brought in for full-time in-person instruction because of the need to transition from elementary to middle school, Lamia said. The school day runs from 7:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Subjects will be taught on alternating odd and even days with block scheduling.
Students in grades 7-12 will be split into two groups. The A Group, consisting of students whose last name begins with the letters A through K, will go to school on Mondays and Tuesdays and have remote learning on Thursdays and Fridays, while the B Group, comprised of the rest of the students, will go for in-person instruction on Thursdays and Fridays and will learn remotely on Mondays’ and Tuesdays. The two groups go to school on Wednesday on alternating weeks.
There will be block scheduling with subjects taught based on an odd- and even-day schedule, which will limit movement within the buildings.
Lamia said that community stakeholder groups worked with the administration and faculty to devise a plan that emphasizes the safety and well-being of students, teachers and staff.
“They’re saying bring children in in a way that can keep them as safe as possible,” Lamia said. “There’s no safe right now. We can’t guarantee safety. We can guarantee social distancing and PPE and we can guarantee our commitment to work with professionals and the community to help us get through situations should they occur.”
A key component is that families must health screen at home before each student leaves for school, which includes a daily temperature check as well as screening for symptoms. There will be monitors at each school entrance when students arrive to also check temperatures and for symptoms.
Lamia said the district retained Dr. Thomas Murray, associate director at Yale Children’s Hospital for Pediatric Immunology, as a consultant to help it formulate its reopening plan. Several physicians in the community have been serving on the stakeholders’ groups and are also helping to advise the district.
District officials cautioned families to brace themselves for potential changes depending on the transmission of COVID-19 in the county, region and state.
“These really are uncharted waters for the district and the administration and the Board of Education,” said Board President Ira Schulman. “We have never had anything like this.”
Several trustees said the goal was to make informed decisions in consultation with public health experts and do what’s best for students and staff.
“This is not ideal for anybody and we are making the best decisions we can based on science, based on the safety of the children and certainly keeping in mind their social and emotional health,” said Vice President Mia DiPietro.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to make an announcement sometime next week about whether schools will reopen. Earlier in July, he said if regional transmission rates remain below 5 percent on a seven-day rolling average, then schools will reopen in some fashion in September. The daily averages in the Mid-Hudson region, which includes Westchester, have remained at or near 1 percent since early June.
To view the full Byram Hills School District reopening plan, visit www.byramhills.org.