Local governments agencies, like the Rochester City School District, have been meeting remotely since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The remote meetings are possible because of a law passed as the pandemic hit New York last year.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been extending the law each month for roughly 30 days. But, as City School District lawyer Steve Carling told the board of education Tuesday, the last few extensions have been getting shorter, now just days or weeks.
“We don’t know when they will end but they are taking baby steps with it. So we need a plan for what returning in person will look like,” said Carling.
Board President Van White and commissioners Beatriz Lebron, Ricardo Adams, and Bill Clark expressed support for returning.
“If we’re asking our teachers to go to the classrooms, we should be willing to go to the board meetings,” said Clark.
The board asked its chief of staff, Kalia Wade, to generate a plan of how to bring the meetings back into district headquarters safely. She said it's unlikely that more than one community member at a time will be allowed in the room due to COVID-19 capacity limits.
“The board members and administration pretty much take up the capacity so there’s limited space for adding community members into that room space,” said Wade.
She said staffers have had meetings with various departments to discuss how to make it work.
Wade said the district will likely reconfigure the boardroom to give more space for commissioners. They’re considering options like installing plexiglass, allowing some board members to attend remotely and keep allowing community members to continue to speak to the board via Zoom.
Barring another renewal by the governor, the provision sunsets April 20.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small mentioned that the district will begin internal and external focus groups on Wednesday. The focus will be on what city schools will look like in the fall with New York’s standard 6 feet of social distancing, or the CDC’s standard, which is 3 feet. She said they’re also considering the best case scenario which is no distancing at all.
“We are building contingency plans and we do recognize that there will likely be more information to come out providing more clarity,” said Myers-Small.
Several districts in Monroe County have indicated that they plan to return all students to in- person classes later this month because they expect New York state to adhere to the CDC’s standard.
Myers-Small says city school schools will not do that before the fall.