The challenges and the needs involved in reopening schools

Sep 1, 2020

A diverse collection of school administrators, parents, teachers and students all weighed in Tuesday night on plans to reopen school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The occasion was a WXXI Live Forum about reopening school, on WXXI-TV, radio and online.

It would be an understatement to say this won’t be a normal school year by any measure. But whether it’s city or suburban districts in Monroe County, participants in the forum Tuesday night sound cautiously optimistic they’ll be able to provide education and support to students and their families.

Meagan Harris is a special education teacher in Rochester. The city school district will be using all remote learning for at least the first 10 weeks of the school year, and Harris says that presents additional challenges for her students.

“We’re not in the normal times of school; that traditional education doesn’t always work for many students, and all those structures, okay, we need to be flexible. So, doing more than just assignments that are being put up on Google Classroom, we need to make sure we’re engaging in conversation,” Harris said.

City school Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small said there were a number of factors behind the decision to stick with virtual learning at least into part of November, including the sheer logistics, such as  transporting thousands of students and the trauma that many of the district’s students face in their home situations.

“But then we have the additional added layer, much more concentrated than any other school district in Monroe County of the trauma of racism and seeing the impact of what happened with George Floyd, and then the two most recent incidents, just the other day in Los Angeles and in Kenosha, so, I was very concerned about the social, emotional needs.” Myers-Small said that  Rochester school officials are working with ways to provide that emotional support through online interactions and other ways of connecting.

The Greece School District, like several others, is using a hybrid of remote and in-person classes.

Superintendent Kathy Graupman said one of the main topics of conversation as they prepare to reopen has to do with the wearing of masks.

“I’ve had a number of people reach out to say that they don’t support masking and they’re not going to have their child wear a mask. We’ve been really clear, this is a public health issue. As much as I can say it’s a disciplinary issue, it’s a public health issue, so, it’s our expectation that kids are wearing masks. It’s the single most important thing in terms of mitigating the spread,” Graupman said.

Gene Mancuso is Superintendent of the Honeoye Falls-Lima School District, and he said his district has made it clear to parents the kids need to wear masks, or they’ll have to learn at home.

“We’ve worked with most families, very clearly to say, look, masks are part of coming to school so, opting to not wear the mask means you’re choosing our remote option because that’s the safest way we can educate your children, it still gives them access,” Mancuso said.

Monroe County Commissioner of Public Health, Dr. Michael Mendoza said  the county is relatively well positioned to deal with the challenges of reopening school since the infection rate has remained below one percent for weeks now.

“My hope here in this county is that we have taken all of the precautions that we possibly can; when you look across the state at the highly populated counties, we are among the top in terms of having the lowest transmission rates the lowest prevalence rates, so if anybody is positioned to be successful, it’s us here in Monroe County," Mendoza said.