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School Daze: How districts are planning for reopening this fall

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(WBNG) -- Schools around the Southern Tier are getting ready for the fall.

But at this point, it's still unclear if students will walk the halls.

Though, superintendents are hopeful for some form of in-person instruction.

"Our optimism is that we can have students back in the fall, it's just a matter of what does the model look like knowing that there is a lot of hesitancy and really fear from parents and the community," said Maine-Endwell Superintendent of Schools Jason Van Fossen.

Superintendents say they've had limited guidance as to what school will look like come September.

"Certainly it's frustrating with that lack of clarity, and I think the biggest challenge is that parents, students, and staff really want to know what to expect," said Windsor Superintendent of Schools Jason Andrews.

"To say that I'm upset? No. But to say that it's an incredible challenge, it's really about a six week turn around, and it's a complicated organization to get all of the parts going in the right direction," said Van Fossen.

There are three avenues for learning this fall.

The first continues the remote setting students finished with this past year.

On the other hand, students could be back in the classroom.

"We had some great success with remote learning but I don't think there's any substitution for in-person, classrooms, and those interactions and the engagement of students," said Andrews.

Districts could also put a hybrid version of the two models into place.

"There's A-B schedules where half the population comes in one day, half comes in the other and then you stagger the student population throughout the building. And then there's just the idea of giving students and parents options," said Andrews.

With no decision yet, districts are planning for all three options.

"It's a lot of communicating to staff and parents, 'Here's what we're doing. We don't have a lot of answers yet, but we're working on them'" said Van Fossen.

Earlier this month, the state education department released guidelines on how to reopen.

It would require social distancing in the classroom, one of the biggest challenges looming over administrators.

"We've been systematically replacing desks with tables, flexible seating and so on. So some of the social distancing really flies in the face of the pedagogy in schools that is collaborative in nature," said Andrews.

Another issue is bussing.

"Classroom spacing is one thing, transportation is another. And to be honest with you, that's probably the biggest challenge right now," said Van Fossen.

"That idea of transportation is really important for us in, how are we able to get students here?" said Andrews.

Those who spend their days in the classroom have also been left in a daze this summer.

"We are in a very messy conundrum," said Windsor social studies teacher Sarah Bidwell. "This year, we don't know what we're planning. Our curriculum is the same but it's very different when you're in-person. Can we collaborate, can we have groupings in our rooms, is everyone going to be sitting on their own, what does that look like? It's a complete change over from what we're used to."

While some are hoping to teach students in-person, teachers realize many lessons this year won't be straight out of the textbook.

"I think that we always need to make sure that we're keeping 'Maslow before Bloom' which means we're meeting our kids' socioemotional needs before we're working on content," said Maine-Endwell social studies teacher Rachel Murat.

Despite the uncertainty, schools are holding onto hope.

"It would be nice to return to normal, it's just what's the normal going to look like?" said Van Fossen.

Preparing to be flexible with an unsettling situation.

"The degree of change that took place in March, I think the degree of change that can still take place in August makes it still really difficult to predict what will happen," said Andrews.

Districts say no matter how students continue their education in September, they are committed to making health and safety a priority.

"We need to bring life back to the school district but we need to take into consideration that we're not putting anybody's lives in jeopardy as well," said Murat.

"Whatever it looks like in the fall, it's focused on kids, it's focused on really trying to provide that safe learning environment so that we can not have a long-lasting negative impact on this generation. We have to get this right," said Andrews.

School districts across New York have until Friday to submit their reopening plans to the state education department.

Governor Cuomo says schools may open if they're in a region in phase four and if the daily infection rate is lower than five percent during a 14 day average.

Final reopening decisions are expected to be announced next week.

Annie Flaherty

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