‘We’re Prepared’: Carmel Schools Gear Up to Resume In-Person Learning

Carmel Central School District
Carmel Superintendent of Schools Mary-Margaret Zehr

Following a strong push from parents in recent months, Carmel Central School District officials swiftly created a plan that will allow students in all grade levels to return to in-person learning starting in April.

Beginning April 13, all students can resume in-person learning every school day of the week. The decision comes after the district formed a 70-person committee comprised of medical professionals, community members, teaching assistants, administrators, and teachers to identify solutions, health and safety factors, physical space, and classrooms size.

While students are encouraged to return to in-person learning, students in all grades will still have the option to remain remote five days a week, with remote-only classes offered. For grades 9 – 12, students will have the choice to stay on a hybrid model.

Additionally, students who are quarantined will be provided with asynchronous work for days they are absent from school. If a full class is quarantined due to an exposure, the entire class will be remote, officials said.

Any student who is absent will attend classes remotely via streaming.

“We know that there will be challenges with the in-person learning and we want to make sure that we’re prepared as well,” Superintendent of Schools Mary-Margaret Zehr said at the March 23 Board of Education meeting. “We’ll probably send messages out to be vigilant about the health and safety of the students, so if someone is feeling ill to not come to school.”

Prior to the district fully reopening for in-person learning, students will have a remote-learning day on April 9 and April 12 to allow teachers to prepare and set up their classrooms.

Zehr said each school principal will be hosting virtual coffee sessions with parents in the coming weeks to answer questions and address any concerns. Furthermore, she said the district will be placing a special focus on the social and emotional needs of the student body as they return to school.

Along with the virtual Principal Coffees, the district will hold an orientation for students returning to in-person learning, issue a mental health screening prior to the official return, offer an optional outdoor community meditation session during the school day, and host spirit week the first week back to school where students can wear pajamas to school each day.

“We’ll be providing additional resources via robo-emails and on our website about those items the week of the (April) 5th and the week of the 12th and the second week,” Zehr said. “We know our students will probably be a little tired the first week and it is an adjustment, so I think that communication will help all around.”

To help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, students, teachers, and staff are required to wear face masks and implement hygiene practices into their daily routine. The district will require those attending school to fill out a daily health screener, with random temperature checks taken throughout the day and custodians continually disinfecting surfaces.

In the classroom, teachers will be involved in the set-up based on the current guidelines of less than six feet with a barrier. Officials said windows will be kept open to the greatest extent possible and polycarbonate dividers will be placed on every other student desk.

In the elementary and middle schools, students will eat in the cafeteria with polycarbonate dividers assigned to every other space. PTO tables will be placed in the gymnasium as needed, officials said. For recess, children will be grouped into small pods and assigned in different play areas, with specific recess equipment assigned to each pod.

Students will be required to sanitize their hands between use.

High school grades will be allowed to go uptown for lunch, with alternate eating areas with polycarbonate dividers available throughout the school, officials said.

For all grade levels taking the bus, students will be required to sit two in every seat. Parents can request to have their child wear a face shield with a mask on a bus, with the district providing shields to parents who submit a request. Parents will also have the option to transport their students to and from school.

“I think the thing we need to think about moving forward is that there will continue to be changes,” Zehr said. “There’s a variety of things that are in process to potentially be changed as time goes on.”