ROCHESTER, N.Y. — School leaders, eager to reopen classrooms completely after shuttering them during the pandemic, are finding new state guidance offered late last week to be the latest impediment in doing so.
“I’m frustrated by the timing,” said Kathy Graupman, president of the Monroe County Superintendents Council and superintendent of the Greece School District. “I’m frustrated that we have reached out to the state over and over again through this entire year. That initial guidance was designed and given to us in August of 2020. And as the science changed this more as we learned more as we proved more in terms of the success we were having with kids in school and knowing how important getting them back in school, nothing changed.”
Graupman called the Friday, 5 p.m. delivery of the new guidelines “insulting and frustrating.”
“It’s not looser in any way,” she said. “There isn’t any flexibility.”
State health department leadership ceded authority in approving school reopening plans to county health departments, under the new guidance.
“They will not be approving, nor will they be responding to us — which they haven’t once this year — and that the Monroe County Department of Health would be responsible for enforcement of our plans,” said Graupman. “And that’s not super clear in terms of what that means.”
One hundred changes to state school guidance were released. The headliner: social distance falls from six to three feet for elementary students.
That distance can be extended to students in secondary schools, as long as new state cohort definitions are met and, most frustrating to educators, the county’s rate of infection in which the school operates does not reach the state’s red zone threshold.
“This new guidance, basically now looks like it’s preventing me from bringing back my secondaries,” said Graupman. “So it doesn’t really make sense to me that we’re attaching our ability to open to transmission rates.”
Hilton High School senior Aeden Consaul feels like he’s read this story from the state before. From his study space at his house, Consaul feels resigned to a senior year away from full-time campus access.
“Even though we have the fourth quarter left, it feels pointless,” he said. “At this point everything feels like it’s been dragged out. It’s almost like to me, how I feel. It’s almost like a big joke.”
That joke could keep secondary schools in hybrid. Working parents like Aeden’s mom, Justyna, want to see their kids back in class full time.
“I don’t think it’s ever too late to do the right thing,” she said. “So, no, I don’t think it’s too late (to reopen classrooms full-time.)”
Complicating matters are food and transportation requirements released by the state; and the adjustment that will keep schools from using Plexiglas barriers to separate student seating.
Districts including Webster, Fairport, Hilton, Greece and West Irondequoit have dialed back timelines to bring secondary schools back to full time.