MIDDLEPORT — Roy-Hart officials decided to err on the side of caution by keeping students in the blended or hybrid model of education. In this model students are rotated to attend school two days a week while the others work at home remotely. This came after the second meeting in two weeks with parents to address whether students of the district should continue in this model or be allowed to return to full, in-class learning.
Last week, parents shared their stories with the district, as well as, ideas to open up the schools earlier. One of the chief subjects in both meetings is the six-foot rule of social distancing, and how it can be lowered with the use of barriers.
Carol Blumrick, former-teacher and vice-president of the Royalton-Hartland Board of Education, reached out to Jay Worona, the general counsel of the New York State School Boards Association, who said that the parents were right.
“ ‘Currently, there has been no change in the guidelines established for schools. Six foot distancing in classrooms is required, or, if less than six feet, barriers must be utilized,’ ” Blumrick quoted from Worona’s statement.
However, the other shoe did drop when Stopinski summarized a statement from Niagara County Public Health Director Dan Stapleton, saying that the county interpretation is that the state was enforcing the six-feet rule, with or without barriers.
“He articulated that to us from the commissioner of health at the state level, and that’s contradictory to what you heard from Mrs. Blumrick,” Stopinski said.
The frustration was visible at the forum as parents tried to explain that they were not asking the school officials to go against any health orders, but wanted them to propose a plan to get the ball rolling and understand that they were ready for any outcome.
A group of the parents said they were all members of a Facebook group called Roy-Hart School for 5 days/week. The public group has 314 members.
“I definitely think that would be a challenge that if we came back to school and then had to quarantine. It’d be an issue, it’d be a challenge,” Kristen Ingraham said after the forum. “But it wouldn’t outweigh our kids being in school five days a week.”
Parents stood up to address issues with officials. Some spoke of mask breaks, others talked about a lack of engagement on remote days and many talked about the social distancing.
The main obstacle, said Stopinski, was the six-foot regulation and the capabilities of the buildings, but he also linked the lack of space to important aspects of instruction.
“We wanted to maintain, not only our teachers, but our special educators, our literacy coaches. They’re in the classrooms,” he said in regard to the re-opening plan in September. “We wanted to make sure that our P.E. and our art, and our music programs were offered to our students, because that’s what keeps them motivated, that’s what keeps them in school.”
Band and chorus classes took up the auditorium, and P.E. took up the gymnasium – places where parents were asking to be used for classroom space – but Stopinski was adamant that these “specials” were important.
“The questions are raised, ‘Why did other districts bring all their students back? How did they do that?’,” he said. “Some of them had other buildings, some chose not to run their specials.”
Stopinski also showed slides of academic improvement for math and English in the elementary and middle schools. It’s not been perfect, he said, but there have been results.
Not all parents agreed with that description.
“The picture that’s being painted for the press and the community is a lot different than what actually was happening in the schools itself on a daily basis,” Keith Burch said to this reporter. “The picture that is being painted is we’re progressing, we’re breaking down barriers – we’re doing this, we’re doing that – but in reality we are not. It is totally not true. In the elementary school, maybe that is what’s happening. In the middle school, the high school, it’s definitely not.”
In the end, Stopinski said that the future of the student’s learning was in the district’s hands, not the Niagara County Department of Health or Worana, and that his recommendation is to stay the course, but noted more information was coming in and the plan to bring back all the students was being addressed.
“We’ve been working on this for a long time,” he said.
A work-session is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 24 in the media room of the Roy-Hart high school.