The Herkimer Central School District hosted a Return to School forum via livestream on Monday, July 27, to discuss the district’s reopening plans.
Like all districts in the state, Herkimer CSD must develop a written plan for reopening schools. The details of the plan will be unique to Herkimer, but the district is required to follow guidelines from the New York State Education Department (NYSED) and interim guidance from the New York State Department of Health (DOH).
Read the district’s complete Reopening Plan for more details about reopening procedures
During the forum, Board of Education President Brian Crandall spoke about the reopening process, including the meetings of reopening committees that have been taking place over the past several weeks.
Superintendent Robert J. Miller discussed the state regulations that have guided the district’s reopening plans. Several highlights were pointed out in the presentation.
- If the region is cleared to proceed with reopening, the district’s expectation is that students will return for in-person instruction unless a student or their family is medically vulnerable. However, the district is awaiting further guidance from the state about remote learning.
- If the region is closed for in-person instruction, every effort will be made to prepare teachers, students and parents for this shift if it is necessary.
- Remote learning will be made available for students who are unable to return to in-person learning for medical reasons.
- In the school building, space limitations and the requirements for social distancing limit the number of students that can be together.
- Band, chorus and physical education, which require 12 feet of social distance, will be offered by remote instruction.
- Class sizes must be reduced to 10-14 students per room to meet the guidelines.
- At the middle and high school level, this means that fewer classes may be available to students, since each class will have fewer students in it.
- Because of these considerations, the district will be moving to a virtual prekindergarten program for the 2020-21 school year. More information will be forthcoming about that program in the weeks to come.
- Face coverings will be required on school grounds and on school buses in most situations. This includes staff, students and visitors.
- If masks are removed (such as when eating, or when students are seated in the classroom), a social distance of 6 feet must be maintained.
- Medical exceptions for mask wearing will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
- If a student refuses to wear a mask, it would be handled in a manner similar to any other situation where a child refuses to follow a school rule. Staff would work with the student to understand the issue and to work toward compliance with school rules.
- Staff will complete health screenings and temperature checks daily before entering the building.
- Parents will be expected to affirm that their child is well before sending the child to school.
- The district will cooperate with the local Department of Health in any contact tracing investigations involving cases of COVID-19 that might involve the schools. It will be up to health authorities to notify any individuals of possible exposure.
- The district’s plans for instruction will make every effort to minimize contact between individuals. Teachers and students will stay together as much as possible to lower the risk of transmission for everyone in the building.
- School buses that once held more than 60 students may now only hold between 22 and 28 masked students, due to the need to maintain social distance on the bus. Students who are from the same household may sit next to each other on the bus.
- The district will encourage parents to bring their children to school. Drop-offs and pickup will be drive-through only. The district will reach out to families to ask about transportation needs for the fall.
- Students can still walk to and from school. High school students who obtain the proper permissions will still be permitted to drive to and from school.
Grade level schedules and details
Following the superintendent’s presentation, principals Renee Vogt, Zachary Abbe and Mary Tomaso spoke about what reopening will look like at the different grade levels. Some highlights included:
- The district is looking at a 5-hour school day for elementary, with dismissal around 1 p.m. Students will come to school five days a week.
- A grab-and-go lunch will be provided to students at dismissal. Breakfast and snack will be served during the school day.
- ELA, math, technology, social studies and other core subjects will continue in the classroom. Every student will have contact time with their teacher throughout the day.
- Every student will have access to a 1:1 device (iPad or Chromebook) so that students are prepared for remote learning in the event that the district is directed to shift to remote learning.
- If remote learning is required, grades and assessments will continue and students will have regular contact with teachers.
- The district is still awaiting information about the BOCES UPK program.
- Students will be organized into cohorts for in-person instruction during a 5-hour school day.
- Teachers will transition between cohorts to minimize exposure.
- Blocks will include a mix of in-person instruction and guided support for remote learning
- Students will receive in-person instruction for at least 2 days a week for 5-hour days. Some students may receive additional in-person support or instruction on a third day.
- Students will be organized into cohorts for in-person instruction. Core teachers will transition between cohorts when possible to minimize exposure.
- At-home learning will include core instruction and specials/electives.
- Breakfast will be available and may be eaten in the classroom. Grab-and-go lunch will be provided at dismissal.
- Each day will include at least five classes.
- About an hour of independent learning will be expected each week per class — more for advanced level classes such as AP or Regents classes.
- Students will also interact regularly with teachers even during remote learning days.
- If the school is directed to shift to fully remote learning, students will be required to participate in a minimum of 180 minutes of weekly instruction to earn credit.
- Students will be held accountable and graded for meeting learning standards throughout remote learning.
- Career and Technical Education programs (CTE) will still be offered. The district is still working to coordinate about the Project Lead The Way program.
- Special education programs will continue to be offered in the least restrictive environment possible.
- Speech, occupational therapy and speech therapy services will be offered in person to the greatest extent practicable, following Department of Health and NYSED guidelines.
- The district is still awaiting updates about off-site programs.
- If school is directed to shift to fully remote learning, services will continue, but will be offered remotely.
- Parents with individual concerns about their child are invited to contact the Special Education office.
- The fall athletics season has been postponed to Sept. 21 statewide.
- More information about athletics will be provided in the weeks to come.