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Many schools return from their winter break; questions about coping with COVID-19

James Brown
WXXI News file photo

Most local school districts return to the classroom after the holiday break this week, and that includes the Rochester City School District which resumes classes on Monday, Jan 3.

The city school district put out a statement last week reminding parents and students and school resumes on Monday. Before the winter break, Rochester school officials had suggested students take home their technology before the break, just in case there was any need to shift to remote learning.

But that is not happening, and school will resume in-person on Monday.

In the note the district put out last week, officials reminded families that that each student was given a COVID-19 rapid test kit to bring home with them before the winter break.

Officials had asked all students to self-test before returning to school.

In a statement released on Sunday to members of the Rochester Teachers Association, its president, Adam Urbanski, said that during recess, the union reached out to Supt. Lesli Myers-Small to ask about the district’s plans for resuming instruction. Urbanski said that on Sunday, the RTA reiterated its position that the district should move to remote instruction for at least the first week of January.

Urbanski said that the Superintendent sent a note to staff to announce they will be returning in-person. Urbanski contends that the district does not have a “real or credible” plan to deal with the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

The union leader said that temporarily pausing resumption of in-person instruction would have given the district more time to assess staffing needs and work on arranging for various logistics and protocols.

Urbanski said that when it can be done safely, in-person instruction is best for students, but he claims the district is currently unprepared to ensure a safe school environment.

A statement sent from Myers-Small to staff on Sunday said that she knows that concerns exist about returning to school, and her team met several times over the break and had conversations with County Executive Adam Bello and Mayor Malik Evans.

Myers-Small said that surgical masks will be available for every student who does not have one and KN95 masks will be distributed to staff by Tuesday morning. The superintendent also said that the governor’s office has provided the district with COVID tests for every student which will be distributed on Monday.

Myers-Small also said central office is continuing to monitor infection rates and any gaps as a result of absences. She said they are covering staff absences, including deploying central office and other staff, and dividing classrooms in some instances.

The superintendent said that RCSD does anticipate a larger than normal student absence on Monday and she said that should help with the staffing plans and any needed reconfigurations.

In a news conference late last week Governor Kathy Hochul again emphasized the need to do what it takes to keep kids in the classroom.

“Kids need to go back, we’ve said this for so many reasons why it’s just not an option to keep our children home after what they had to go through last time, our teachers, our parents, and everybody, it was too much stress, said Hochul.“

Hochul said the state is distributing millions of rapid test kits to schools around New York, and more are on the way, as part of the effort to use a test-to-stay method to help keep students in the classroom.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.