Schools across New York state are gearing up to educate children in ways they never have before. Many school districts, including Lockport, are planning to roll out a combination of virtual and in-person instruction in the 2020-2021 school year.

Districts were required to submit their reopening plans to the state by Friday. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is poised to make a formal decision about school reopening next week, using a formula that would allow districts to reopen where the COVID-19 daily infection rate remains below 5% on a 14-day average. 

Michelle Bradley, superintendent of Lockport City School District, stressed that the document released on Friday most likely will change as guidance changes.

"It's an ever-fluid, never-final plan, because things change daily in terms of guidance or clarification to guidance. So there will likely be very many times throughout the (upcoming) school year where we will have to go in and make amendments to the plan," she said. 

Ahead of the new school year, districts were directed by the state to explore an all in-person instructional model, a remote instructional model and a hybrid of both. 

Bradley observed that a full return to in-person instruction is not possible for Lockport schools, due to space constraints.

"It's impossible to ... implement a full in person model based on social distance requirements," she said.

School will officially begin on Sept. 8 in the Lockport district, whose hybrid model calls for students to be split into two groups, each attending school in person on different days. Students with last names starting A through K are in the blue cohort and L through Z are in the gold cohort. On week 1, one cohort will come to school three days and the other cohort attends two days; the following week, they flip.

Parents will be asked to provide their children with masks and perform daily health screening that includes a temperature checks before their child enters their school.

"If a child is presenting with a temperature of 100 degrees or higher, they should remain home," Bradley said. 

Employees are expected to do daily self checks as well, she added.

Deborah Coder, assistant superintendent for finance and management services, said district parents were asked to complete a survey that included a portion on transportation and some have already opted out of transportation. 

No more than 22 students will be allowed on a bus and there will be one student per seat, unless the students are siblings, in which case two may sit on a seat, Coder said. Bus drivers will be informed which cohort the riders belong in and masks will be required on the bus. 

Lisa Schrader, assistant superintendent for personnel, said employees are being provided with appropriate cleaning materials and towels to wipe down and sanitize "high touch" surface areas. In the evening, the district's custodial staff will engage in more intense cleaning and sanitizing, she said.

The amount of items in classrooms will be reduced to allow for more focus on the cleaning of high touch surfaces, Schrader added.

Classrooms will be reconfigured before school starts. "Non-essential items ... will be removed so that we are able to social distance," Bradley said, "and you'll have half the number of students in a classroom each day."

Regarding physical education, Bradley said she expects the curriculum to involve only non-contact and more individual based activities.

Music and art teachers will probably be traveling to classrooms to keep students contained as much as possible, she added.

Some but not all special education students may come to school physically every day, according to Bradley.

"Many students with disabilities are considered high needs students. Some of our special educations students ... may be coming to school every day because of their Individual Education Plan, which is a legal document, and because they are considered high need," Bradley said. "They need to be in school with direct contact with their teacher and to receive services every day depending on their IEP." 

In all schools, proper hand washing technique will be taught, and hand sanitizer will be available, according to the district's plan.

If a confirmed case of COVID-19 is communicated to the district, an administrator will be in direct, immediate contact with the county health department regarding how to proceed, Bradley said. 

The reopening plan is posted online at lockportschools.org/reopening.

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