Eammon Scanlon, education policy manager for the Children's Agenda, a Rochester-based non-profit, gives the school reopening plans he’s seen mixed marks, but he doesn’t blame school districts.
“We need a lot more guidance and uniformity,” said Scanlon. “These decisions shouldn’t be left up to an individual school district to handle such a complicated and onerous task.”
As part of the plan to reopen schools, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered that each district submit their own reopening plans to the state. Last week, Cuomo said reopening decisions will be made on a district by district basis.
Scanlon is asking for more leadership from the state and national levels, and more clarity on whether school buildings are actually safe. Scanlon also wonders who is responsible for the ongoing purchases of personal protective equipment and other costs caused by the pandemic.
He does see some positive elements in various district plans. Scanlon said a common trait is an emphasis on those who need extra attention like special education students, and those who are learning english as a second language.
“They are often prioritized for in-person instruction, knowing that their needs are greater and that they suffer more from being out of school,” said Scanlon.
Fransisco Araiza, associate director of research and policy at the Education Trust, had similar sentiments about the Rochester City School District’s plan. The Education Trust analyzed reopening plans for four out of the five largest school districts in the state and gives Rochester good marks for making plans to help its other vulnerable students like those facing homelessness or housing insecurity.
“It’s something that we didn’t see in too many districts but Rochester is actively working through that,” said Araiza.
But, Araiza expressed concern that the district’s plan may not be equitable enough. Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small’s plan limits in-person instruction to students in Pre-K through 4th grade along with other groups of students. All others are expected to learn remotely.
Araiza said the jury is still out on how much of an impact remote instruction can have.
“Rochester does make a clear point of demonstrating that they’re looking and setting expectations for students and teachers to connect directly,” said Araiza. “They are making that emphasis. The challenge for us is just the how.”
He said mass remote instruction is a new concept and it has not been studied enough to determine best practices and students and said teachers may miss out on making much needed connections.