While recognizing its comprehensive Health and Safety Plan for 2020-2021 is still very much a work in progress, the Palisades School District has approved a “total reopen for all student and staff,” starting Aug. 31, with an “option for distance learning.”
The 5-4 roll call approval by the school board was near the end of a three-hour dial-in public meeting on July 22, with attendance noted at 250, and followed public comment from two dozen constituents and six board members.
The approval of the “total reopen” basic option, as contrasted with a “hybrid” basic option that would combine home-based and school-based attendance, or as contrasted with an all-home basic option, allowed the district to move forward with a basic plan that had school board approval as required by public health authorities, while also allowing for significant adjustments as needed.
A first draft of the plan was released to staff and families on July 2, and results of July 6 surveys of parents and guardians were incorporated into the current revised plan.
Parents were especially critical of what they saw as insufficient detail in the plan’s distance (home) learning option, which officials explained could not be provided until they knew how many households wanted it, and which was scheduled for a special presentation on July 24.
In order to move forward with organizing effectively for an Aug. 31 reopening in any event, officials noted they needed an indication of parent intentions, via pre-registration sent out July 23, to be returned by 4 p.m. on July 27.
Accounting for adequate social distancing was at the center of the plan. Relatively low utilization of school building capacities, which had spurred rigorous consideration a few years ago of closing one or more buildings, along with the relatively small class size demanded by many parents, were now seen as significant assets for coping with the pandemic.
Noting July 16 jointly-issued guidelines from the state departments of health and education, and further guidance from the county board of health, featuring “distancing 6 feet to the maximum extent feasible,” the plan noted 6-foot distancing was already available in classrooms ranging from 55 percent to 91 percent in the five district buildings. Given masking and the addition of face shields, with supply already in hand, 100 percent was available in the middle school at 5 feet; at 4 feet in the three elementary schools; and at 3 feet for the high school.
Parent comments especially included uneasiness with the less than 6-foot distancing, which officials said could be further improved. They were also uneasy about the effectiveness of distancing on school buses that relied on seating separation and designated seat assignments, and children leaving their masks on.
The plan notes particular procedures for maximizing effectiveness of cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting, and ventilation; special protocols for enhancing social distancing; requirements for monitoring student and staff health; and a commitment for staff to work with families “to reintegrate students returning to school,” including the availability of mental health resources.
Among the two dozen constituent comments, which were overwhelmingly against the plan, one longtime parent activist noted the plan as an opportunity for expression of confidence in district staff. That staff has long been lauded for providing educational excellence within fiscal responsibility, and also for their response to the March 13 mandated school closing, including online completion of the school year both academically and with traditional activities such as graduations.