Some districts are looking at including more students in remote summer school and trying different instructional approaches, like in small groups
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that summer school can be offered through distance learning, but not in school buildings.
Some school districts had hoped that they could bring small groups of students into schools come July, both to improve instruction and to prepare for the eventual reopening of schools with health and safety precautions.
But Cuomo said there are too many questions about how it could be done with social distancing and other precautions, particularly when there are growing concerns over a respiratory illness linked to COVID-19 that is impacting children.
"Summer school is not going to open statewide for in-class teaching," he said.
Cuomo also said that no decision has been made about whether schools can reopen in the fall.
He said the state will release health and safety guidelines for school districts in June to help prepare for the possible reopening of schools in the fall. Districts will then have submit plans to the state in July that address how they would reduce density in classrooms, on buses, in cafeterias and elsewhere.
"We want to get more information on this inflammatory syndrome," Cuomo said. "We also want to see how the development for treatment of vaccine proceeds. We will issue guidelines in the beginning of June on what schools would need to do to come up with a plan to prepare to open."
Some districts still have high hopes for remote summer school after a pandemic-disrupted spring, but financial uncertainty could short-circuit plans their plans to include more students and elevate online learning.
What's next for summer school in New York
Districts generally offer two types of summer programs: Required instruction and services for students with disabilities, and voluntary remedial and enrichment programs for other students.
Of those districts that offer remedial programs, some are hoping to include more students in remote summer school and to try different instructional approaches, like teaching students in small groups.
After two months of uneven at-home learning, expanded summer school could be a pre-emptive strike against the "summer slide" that parents and educators abhor.
"We can look at summer school as a dress rehearsal for the fall, assuming there will still be remote learning," said Lou Wool, superintendent of the Harrison school district. "I've been telling my staff, 'Let's use everything we can think of, let's try things out.' "
Joe Ricca, superintendent of the White Plains school district and president-elect of the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents, said that summer school will likely look different than it has in the past,
"Our goal is to serve as many kids as we can and support them through the summer," he said.
Funding a concern for schools this summer
A catch is that summer school costs will be part of districts' 2020-21 budgets, which are not decided and could still face cuts.
Districts hire teachers for the summer separately. Pay varies from district to district.
When districts have to cut spending, summer school is often among the first things on the chopping block.
Cuomo repeated his earlier warning Thursday that schools could lose 20% of their budgeted state aid if the federal government does not help close New York's $13 billion revenue hole. He has also said that additional cuts could come during the school year if state revenues lag.
Districts are also uncertain what will happen if budget proposals are rejected by voters when all-mail elections are held June 9. Cuomo's executive orders have not said whether districts could propose second budgets or would have to adopt cost-slashing contingency budgets.
"There are students who need to be better prepared for September, whatever September looks like," said New Rochelle schools Superintendent Laura Feijoo.
"If remote learning is our new reality, we want to persevere through the summer. We owe this to our students. We are calling on the federal government to give the state the money it needs, and the sooner we know, the better we can plan."
Different summer plans for different schools
Students and parents practice social distancing as they wait in line for loaner laptops distributed at Holmes Elementary School in Mount Vernon on April 1.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that the city school system will offer a greatly expanded online summer school for about 180,000 students, about 16% of all students in the system. About 28,000 will be students with disabilities. The majority will be students receiving academic support — 67,000 students in grades 3-8 and 83,000 high-schoolers.
Last year, the New York City schools enrolled about 44,000 students in on-site summer school.
Advocates in the Lower Hudson Valley hope that districts will be able to offer expanded, improved summer school programs that support the many students who have struggled with remote learning.
Allison Lake, executive director of the Westchester Children's Association, pointed to technological inequities that have been exposed, with many students lacking a laptop or stable WiFi.
"We're concerned that some kids are really falling behind," Lake said. "Schools already complain about the summer slide; then add nine weeks of less than optimal remote learning. So it would be wise to provide remedial work and assistance to kids over the summer. Districts know their families and know where the support will mean a lot."
Districts must provide summer services to students with disabilities whose annual plans require them.
But districts need to plan and elevate their services as students have lost out on the face-to-face therapies they normally get in school, said Tara Fappiano of Yonkers, a lawyer and advocate for those with disabilities, whose son is a special education student in the Tuckahoe district.
"Parents can speak up and ask for it," she said. "There should be expectations for the summer, like structure and access to special education teachers and therapists. It's not going to be a full program — no districts can provide that and teachers are shot. But districts should be putting services in place."
One of the main purposes of summer school in the past — to help high school students pass Regents exams and graduate in August — is less of a priority this year. Regents exams were canceled, and students do not need to pass them in order to get credit for courses and toward graduation.