After months of strategizing, a plan is in the works for the Niagara Falls City School District to reopen in the fall.
For the upcoming school year, students and teachers will be a part of a hybrid model. Half of all students will go to school on Monday and Tuesday, with the other half attending classes on Thursday and Friday. Wednesday, as well as Saturday and Sunday, will be used as sanitation and cleaning days for the school buildings in the plan.
Superintendent Mark Laurrie said students and teachers will have to wear mandatory face coverings while in school buildings.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has until Aug. 7 to accept the plan. When students are not in school, they will have assignments to work on while they’re at home. The plan will be tried for a few weeks with adjustments being considered along the way. Laurrie is hoping the number of days students will be able to attend school will increase.
“It’ll take a lot of hard work and a lot of cooperation and patience,” Laurrie said. “Budget wise, we’re going to need to be prepared to have extra masks and extra face coverings. We’re going to need to be prepared. We have all of our cleaning products ordered. We’re hoping that we’ve already accounted for a lot of it. Certainly, we could use more financial support. The governor’s talking about a 20% cut. We can’t even afford to take a 1% cut. That’s kind of a paradox for me, to ask us to do all these things and ask us too cut our budget again.”
Though there isn’t a specific dollar amount tied to reopening, Laurrie sees there could be a great strain on schools since there has not been any lessening of mandates from Cuomo. Should things not work out and a second quarantine is instituted, he said staff will be prepared to return to a remote learning situation.
Deciding to split up the school week felt unnatural to Laurrieand while it’s quite unprecedented, he said he felt this was the best way to maintain safe social distancing measures.
This also serves as a great way to bring people back after being away from school for six months, he said.
In order to properly split up the students, the process will be done using last names, with special consideration for family’s with varying last names. Considerations will be made as things go on.
“We’ll try to do as much physical education outside on our fields and properties at Hyde Park and Gaskill as possible,” Laurrie said. “If not, we’ll spread kids out. Fifty percent in the gym classes, so that will be helpful. We’ve asked the principals to mark off the cafeteria ... We may have to create alternative cafeterias in classrooms or in a small gym at the Niagara Falls High School. We can set up additional tables in the hallway or a performing arts area.”
Laurrie is worried about student’s information retention since there will be two different styles of learning. Staff will be in school every day to post lessons and teach. However, Laurrie is hoping this will be temporary. Given that students will be home at least three days out of the week, the district’s meal program, which has gone on through the summer, will provide for students learning from home on certain days. As of July 28, there have been 404,364 meals served since the program began in mid-March.
As for other local school districts, the Lewiston-Porter School District is still working on its plan and has until Aug. 15 to iron out the details, according to Patricia Grupka, the assistant superintendent for administrative services for Lew-Port.
“We are still in the process of meeting with our union leadership teams for additional input,” she said. “We will also be reaching out to families again. There are many moving parts to this, so we are trying to reach out to all involved groups before we finalize anything. By the 15th we will be able to share some information and would be happy to have the support of the Gazette in getting some information out to the community.”