The Rochester City School District has announced that it will switch to distance learning starting Thursday, January 6. Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small said the suspension of in-person classes was necessary due to increasing staff absences and a shortage of replacements.
“I imagine Rochester won’t be the only district making these changes,” the superintendent said at a media briefing Wednesday afternoon.
For many schools in Monroe County, 2022 looks a lot like 2020.
Most schools opened in person on Monday for the start of their spring semester, others have switched to distance learning and a growing number of other schools appear to be considering a switch to distance learning in the midst of the surge in coronavirus infections fueled by omicron and the resulting staff shortages.
Locally, Rochester’s Young Women’s College Prep Charter School opted for virtual classes for their students this week, with plans to return to teaching in person on January 10.
Barbara F. Zelazny, director of Young Women’s College Prep, said six teachers during the holidays tested positive for COVID-19. That, added to several teachers unavailable for other reasons, made it impossible to return for in-person teaching this week.
However, the students in the school in the fall learned to use the online program, to prepare for the event that classes need to go online temporarily, as they did this week.
Impact on the city’s students
Myers-Small announced on Wednesday that distance learning would begin Thursday and continue until at least Monday. Officials would decide next week whether the district is able to return to in-person learning on Tuesday, as scheduled.
“This is a temporary measure, as the limited number of staff and the shortage of replacements have a direct impact on our ability to educate and transport your children in a safe, efficient and orderly manner,” Myers-Small said. in a letter to parents.
Students should sign in to Google Classroom or Seesaw starting Thursday.
“We anticipate a return to in-person learning on Tuesday, Jan. 11, and will provide an update by noon Monday,” Myers-Small said. “The new variant has really been a game-changer in terms of our ability to make sure the staff are there, and you make that even worse with the fact that there are staff shortages.”
Take-out meals for students will be served at 15 school sites from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more details on the distance learning plan, visit the RCSD website.
In his letter to parents, Myers-Small urged students to get vaccinated
“Vaccination clinics are being organized in some schools from next week,” she wrote. “The district is working with local pediatricians to maximize opportunities for immunization.”
Staff shortage affecting many districts
Other districts have also put plans in place if they need to switch to distance learning and have started distributing COVID-19 home test kits that students can use to prevent infected children from going to school without knowing it.
“The purpose of the kits is to get your children tested… so that any potential spread at school can be mitigated before it becomes mainstream,” Brighton Superintendent Kevin McGowan said in a letter to the families.
He also asks the students and their parents to be patient.
“Due to staff shortages, you might see longer queues in cafeterias, delayed bus service and the cancellation of some courses / services in order to move staff to adequately supervise students”, a- he said, adding that he planned to continue teaching in person. without interruption.
District officials, he said, “will monitor and adjust” as necessary. According to district data, 13% and 12% of students were absent on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, while 9% and 12% of staff were absent on those same days.
In the central school district of Rush-Henrietta, student attendance did not decline significantly after the holidays.
“The biggest challenge right now is ensuring proper staffing,” said district spokesperson Travis Anderson. “A growing number of employees are being diagnosed with COVID or are being quarantined due to potential exposure to the virus. We are watching this closely. We have so far been able to fill in the gaps, but the question is, what happens when the gaps cannot be filled? District leaders are meeting today to refine our plans if we find ourselves in a position where we cannot fully open up.
While district officials believe children should learn in school, “given the increasingly difficult conditions we face, we need to prepare for this possibility,” he said.
In the Penfield Central School District, Superintendent Thomas Putnam, in a letter this week, told families the district has made plans in case staff shortages due to the virus force in-person teaching to shift. distance education.
“We are committed to doing everything possible to keep our schools open and do not anticipate that the county or state will impose a closure,” he said. In the event of a staff shortage, he said, the district would first transfer middle and high school students to online courses.
“As virtual classrooms are more difficult for our K-5 students, the goal would be to keep K-5 classes in person, with submarines removed from secondary buildings, if possible.” , did he declare. If all schools are to close, he said, distance learning plans for elementary school students have been prepared.
Impact of the anticipated increase
At a school board meeting on Tuesday, officials said they were considering a temporary switch to distance learning due to the ongoing pandemic – including the district’s high rate of absenteeism due to the outbreak. current, lack of available substitutes and ongoing transport shortages.
“We are very concerned about the staff, we are very concerned about the students, and we want to make some very good, healthy decisions as we move forward,” Myers-Small said.
Nearly 40% of Rochester students were absent from district schools on Monday as students returned from vacation, according to district data. The figure, she said, is about twice as many students as students absent on a typical day earlier this winter. Almost 10% of staff were also absent.
District staff, she said, continue to refer to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and the state Department of Health, COVID-19 infections and staff and student absences, has she declared.
The district also warned Tuesday night of bus delays due to a staff shortage. Shortages have forced the district transportation department to combine some routes, which can lead to delays of up to two hours on Wednesday, as happened earlier this week, according to a post.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, Michael Schmidt, district operations manager, said more than 100 of the district’s 880 drivers (around 12% of drivers) reported sick on Monday, affecting 340 lines of buses and causing delays at the beginning and at the end. of the school day.
Many drivers make multiple trips as routes are reconfigured on short notice. Drivers take additional routes, anyone with the appropriate license helps them, he said.
“Every school district in Monroe County and across the state is grappling with this,” she said. “It is very difficult” to determine the best course of action to continue to educate the students while ensuring their safety.
Parents, teachers speak out
A group of concerned parents, teachers and community members are demanding that the Rochester City School District switch to distance learning for at least two weeks to stop the spread of the virus and keep children and their children safe. families.
“We care deeply not only for the health and safety of our students and children, but also for their continued access to safe and quality educational environments,” the petition says. “The disruption caused by cutting teachers and quarantining classes will negate any perceived benefits of having to attend school in person. The numbers that are coming in are staggering and are likely underestimated.”
Additionally, the group noted that the move to distance learning would also allow consistency and stability, rather than the massive disruption caused by clustering classes when substitute teachers are not available to replace sick teachers, ” as we overcome this massive increase in cases. “