Students in the Pleasantville School District are on track to return to class on Sept. 8 as part of a hybrid schedule that will see most students receive in-person instruction two days a week.
But most of the 70 participants in last Thursday evening’s live-streamed Board of Education meeting, parents of the youngest students at Bedford Road School were critical of the plan because for many it would require child care on days when there is remote learning.
The plan, which will be put into motion after Gov. Andrew Cuomo late last week gave the go-ahead for schools to reopen next month, includes splitting all grades into two groups: one that will attend school on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the other on Wednesdays and Fridays, with e-learning the other days. Monday is a remote learning day for the entire district.
Bedford Road School parents argued that the schedule will negatively affect families and their children.
“The reopening plan is deficient when it comes to families with young children,” said Patrick Donovan, a parent of a five-year-old who will be entering kindergarten. “Young children are obviously less adept at remote learning and they are less independent. They require more supervision and a hands-on adult presence in the form of a parent.”
Parent Deepthi Prakash asked for the board’s rationale for the two-day week in-person plan for younger children, which poses greater risk with a child care person coming into the home.
“The reason I ask is because a lot of parents of young children are hiring babysitters, tutors, etc., creating exposure to a broader social circle than they would have if they were in school five days per week,” Prakash noted.
District officials said their primary goals are preserving the health and safety of students and creating the best educational environment under the circumstances. Given that social distancing is a key element to reopening schools safely, space in each building was a serious consideration, said Superintendent of Schools Mary Fox-Alter.
“We don’t have the room,” Fox-Alter said of Bedford Road School. “We are not willing to take our gyms and our stages and cut them up into classrooms with plastic shields. We want to make sure that the day on campus is as close to what an educational experience for the children is during normal times.”
Principal Peggy Galotti said another factor was an enrollment increase, which adds six second-graders this year.
“We would need another 32 classrooms for all the students,” Galotti said.
“If I did cut the gym and the cafeteria and the library into extra spaces, it still wouldn’t come close to housing everyone.”
Fox-Alter added that this year the school’s fourth-grade graduating class is half the size of the incoming kindergarten class.
According to a recent Care.com online survey of 1,000 parents with children under the age of 15, 73 percent of parents plan to make major changes to their professional lives to accommodate the lack of child care. About 15 percent of parents, mostly women, are considering leaving the workforce.
Donovan said the financial burden on two-income families would force some to consider relinquishing one of those incomes.
“Or else they have to hire someone to aid the household, which is more expensive than normal because of the overwhelming demand,” Donovan said. “Help may be more than families can afford and could push them to the brink at a highly volatile economic time. They may have to sell their homes or give up their leases.”
He also asked about a tax rebate to help families with young children.
“Ultimately we are not a child care facility,” Trustee Angela Vella said. “We are supposed to educate all students and need to try to do the best for all students so no one group takes the brunt. Unfortunately, everybody has to share the pain.”
Board of Education President Larry Boes encouraged Donovan and other parents to join the board’s advocacy efforts by contacting the governor’s office to appeal for help for parents with young children.
“This plan will disappoint and frustrate people and at the end of the day we realize that this is a challenge for everybody,” Fox-Alter said. “I think the state needs to step up its efforts to help address the economic needs that are put upon us. Maybe there needs to be a COVID reserve or some sort of rebate or a tax deduction for families experiencing child care needs.”
Pleasantville STRONG Change
At the start of the nearly three-and-a-half-hour meeting, Nicole Malgarinos, coalition coordinator for Pleasantville STRONG, announced that Trustee Shane McGaffey has succeed longtime chairman John Muller, the organization’s founder.