GENEVA — The City School District is recommending in-person instruction for pre-K and elementary students this fall and hybrid models for the middle and high school as part of its state-mandated preliminary reopening plans under the COVID-19 outbreak.
The preliminary plan was announced by Superintendent Patricia Garcia during a Zoom roundtable Thursday afternoon that she presented in both English and Spanish. The recommendations are the work of a district task force with members ranging from administrators and teachers to community leaders and parents.
The district must submit its initial reopening plans to the state Education Department today. The Board of Education will get looks at the preliminary recommendations by the task force on Aug. 10 and the final recommendations Aug. 18.
Garcia emphasized that while education is the business of schools, something else takes precedence when trying to teach young people in the middle of a pandemic that, while relatively controlled in the state, may become more problematic as the nation moves into fall and winter.
“The safety of our children is our first priority,” said Garcia, who noted that she will have a child in fourth grade at North Street School come September.
Garcia said the district has enough space at its two elementary buildings to allow in-person instruction each day and allow proper social distancing in classes. One way the district will be able to do that, she said, is by reducing class sizes to 10 to 12 students.
In the high school and middle school — grades six to 12 — there is not enough room for five-day, in-school instruction, meaning a hybrid model is necessary. Half of the students would attend in-person Monday and Wednesday and receive virtual instruction Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; the other half would attend in-person Tuesday and Thursdays and receive virtual instruction Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Additional staffing may be needed in some schools, Garcia indicated.
However, said Garcia, for parents who are uncomfortable sending their children back to school because of coronavirus infection concerns, virtual learning is a possibility under some conditions.
At the elementary level, the district may be able to offer distance learning if families commit to the model for the whole school year and if 20 students at each grade level commit.
At the middle/high school, the district may be able to offer 100 percent virtual instruction if enough students in one subject area commit to virtual instruction for an entire semester.
Garcia said educators around the nation generally agree that a hybrid model of learning for elementary students is not ideal, but that for older students, it is less of an issue.
As for students with health conditions that make them a potentially higher risk for complications if infected by COVID-19, Garcia said the district will provide accommodations, but she did not give details. She urged parents to have their doctors reach out to the district to discuss such concerns.
Garcia explained that state social distancing requirements will mean changes in classroom and hallway configurations, as well as buses, where only child will be allowed per seat.
Masks are required by students and staff on buses, in classes and hallways, and they can only be taken off for meals and specified breaks, said Garcia.
Parents who took part in the Zoom call expressed concerns with the mask wearing, especially for very young students.
“I understand the discomfort of wearing a mask,” said Garcia, who added that the district must follow the law.
Besides, she said, wearing masks is the right thing to do.
“We want your children to be safe,” she said.
As for hygiene, Garcia pointed to additional cleaning that must be done under state guidelines, including between each bus run.
And while students and staff are not required to have a COVID-19 test to attend, they are required to complete a health questionnaire before coming to school, Garcia explained.
Extracurricular activities are still being considered, she noted.
Garcia said additional Zoom sessions are planned, and the next one will include building principals.
She assured parents that the district is doing everything in its power to provide a safe environment for learning this fall.
“We’ll get through this together,” she said.