Rochester City School District Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small laid out a plan Thursday night to reopen school buildings for city school students. All students have attended classes remotely so far this school year.
Students would have the option to attend school in person a few days a week and continue remotely on the other days. It would start with elementary school students with middle and high school students phased in later. The plan is subject to change due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Myers-Small said that the hybrid plan could begin as soon as February but she cautioned that the timeframe is fluid.
“If we are saying that our core belief is that we put students first then that’s what we need to do sometimes, above adult needs, and I don’t mean to be pejorative,” said Myers-Small. “Our students have told us very definitively that ‘we want to go back to school’ and I feel the very same way.”
The Board of Education was generally supportive of the idea and passed a measure to pursue the plan 4-2, with Commissioner Beatriz Lebron absent.
Commissioner Ricardo Adams said he is concerned about rising COVID-19 cases but his daughters, along with other district students that he knows, want to return to in-person instruction. He said their opinions outweighed his concerns.
“I’m going to back you, Dr. Myers. I’m going to back you,” said Adams.
Commissioner Willa Powell and Board Vice President Cynthia Elliott were skeptical of the plan and voted against it. Elliott was very emotional during her remarks saying it's better to be safe than sorry.
“I don’t want our children to go back to school under any circumstance until we have moved through this pandemic,” said Elliott. “I just don’t want to have to bury anyone.”
She said the plan could put families in the predominately African-American district in harm's way.
“There are times when parents have to say no. And this is one of those times,” continued Elliott.
Myers-Small said she intends to send out surveys to families to gauge their interest in returning to school buildings during the pandemic. Those choices will greatly impact the cost of reopening buildings. The district is expecting a $76 million budget deficit in the next school year.
Myers-Small also announced that the district is on track to welcome special needs students back to the buildings. About 350, roughly 45% of those students, opted to switch to a hybrid plan. They’re expected back on January 4.