School Districts Unveil Recommended Reopening Plans

Local school districts submitted September reopening plans to the state Education Department last week with an emphasis on hybrid models, while at least two districts will be able to accommodate five-day in-person schedules for their youngest students.

The most common scenario will see significant portions of the student body at Bedford, Byram Hills and Pleasantville schools mix remote learning with a return to class either two or three days a week.

Mount Pleasant has outlined three separate scenarios – all-remote, hybrid instruction and exclusively in-person instruction. Officials will share more details once a plan has been approved by the state. Last week, Chappaqua Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Ackerman informed the district’s parents that information will be shared with families on Tuesday and with the community at large at Wednesday evening’s Board of Education meeting, after the July 31 deadline for the plans were extended a week.

Byram Hills School District officials last week reached consensus to have children in grades K-6 and special education students attend in-person classes five days a week to start the school year while a hybrid schedule will be instituted for grades 7-12 when school resumes next month.

Meanwhile, the Bedford School District will see children in grades K-2 return five days a week while the remainder of the grades will follow a hybrid model. Students in grades 3-12 will alternate each week between attending in-person classes two and three days. Students will continue instruction remotely on days that they are not in school.

In Pleasantville, all grades will be split into two groups, one of which will attend classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the other Wednesdays and Fridays. Mondays will be a remote learning day for the entire district.

Each district highlighted the use of masks and the spacing of desks at least six feet apart when students attend in-person classes.

Schedules will be subject to revision as officials in multiple districts have cautioned families to brace for potential changes depending on the degree of transmission of COVID-19 in the county, region and state.

“We anticipate changing and adapting our plans as circumstances demand or permit,” said Dr. Joel Adelberg, Bedford’s interim superintendent of schools. “While starting on a hybrid model, for instance, our hope, pending favorable data, is that early in the school year we might be able to move to a full in-person model for more of our students and staff.”

Byram Hills Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jen Lamia said that the preference to have five days of in-school instruction for elementary school students is because they are less suited to learning on computers. Sixth-graders entering H.C. Crittenden Middle School will also be brought in for full-time in-person instruction because of the importance of transitioning from elementary to middle school, she said.

“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.”

Under Byram Hills’ recommended plan, children in each class in grades K-5 will be split into two groups and placed in adjacent classrooms to ensure social distancing, Lamia explained. 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.

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.

Bedford school officials had hoped to bring all K-5 students back to school full-time but there were too many obstacles for that to be accomplished at the start of the year, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Jean Miccio explained.

“Once we got into the details of the schedule, it became clear that the staffing and classroom needs would be too great,” Miccio wrote to parents of elementary school children last Friday. “Therefore, we had to scale back our plan to offer full day instruction to only our K-2 students, for now.”

She said classes will be split in half with no more than 10 to 12 students in each room to achieve the six-foot social distancing protocols.

Elementary school students will eat lunch in their classrooms and all instruction received will be in that same space, with teachers visiting to limit movement of students throughout the building once the school day begins.

The district’s hybrid model for grades 3-12 will mean half of the students will be in school each day. The students’ schedules will have them attending school two or three days a week on alternating weeks, Adelberg said.

In Pleasantville, the two-day in-person schedule will apply to all grades except kindergarten, where children will have their school day split between in-person and remote sessions Tuesday through Friday.

Pleasantville Superintendent of Schools Mary Fox-Alter said because the district’s enrollment has been stable, there isn’t much spare room for students to spread out.

“While we acknowledge these options may disappoint and frustrate families as they prepare for the fall, they are based upon health and safety needs,” Fox-Alter stated. “It is critical that our community understand that this undertaking is, and will continue to be, a fluid process. It is very likely that September will look different from October as we continue to adjust our models to account for new information and variables.”

Families are expected to screen their children at home each morning, including the taking of temperatures.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to make an announcement this week about school reopening. Last month, 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.