Genesee Valley Chief Schools Officers’ Association weighs in on reopening

Letter to the Editor

The following letter is on behalf of all the school districts in the Genesee Valley BOCES region. Alexander, Attica, Avon, Batavia, Byron-Bergen, Caledonia-Mumford, Dansville, Elba, Geneseo, Keshequa, LeRoy, Letchworth, Livonia, Mount Morris, Oakfield-Alabama, Pavilion, Pembroke, Perry, Warsaw, Wayland-Cohocton, Wyoming and York.

On the evening of Saturday, March 14, 2020, the collective group of school Superintendents who serve the communities of the Genesee Valley BOCES region gathered around a meeting table to grapple with the impending closure of schools due to the emerging COVID-19 public health crisis. On that Saturday evening, we could have never predicted what the next several months would hold for our districts. In a very short period of time, however, we found ways to feed our communities, provide technology, support mental health, continue instruction, provide resources for child care, and rethink all functions in our districts.

Fast forward four months, we are now faced with a challenge that is, quite possibly, even greater than how to shut down. The challenge we now face is how to reopen our schools. It’s one thing to shut down our schools. We currently have questions that need to be answered. A few of those questions are, but not limited to, include public health, teaching and learning, technology access, human resource matters and, budget considerations.

As the end of the July approaches, school districts will be posting their reopening plans on their websites. Every district aspires to open its doors to staff and students the week after Labor Day as we have always done. We know, however, that this type of traditional opening is challenging at best, and in some cases simply impossible given the pandemic and guidance we must follow. Each district is a unique organization with distinctive challenges, expectations, and capacity and, a “one size fits all plan” does not work. While we may not be able to have a universal, prescriptive regional reopening plan, we are united in our efforts that each district will provide the best possible conditions for our students and staff.

Some districts may be able to bring more/all students back for in-person instruction while other districts might need to provide hybrid models in order to adhere to public health guidelines regarding social distancing. These decisions need to be made locally based on capacity and community expectations. While we realize that all of our efforts are certain to be compared, especially with those of our geographic neighbors, the reality is no one has the “right” answer for everyone. All districts in the Genesee Valley BOCES region and across the state will have different strategies and plans, but all have the same goal: create the best learning conditions for students given the extensive guidance, and provide the safest work environment possible for staff.

A recent statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics July 2020 noted, “Schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being and provide our children and adolescents with academic instruction, social and emotional skills, safety, reliable nutrition, physical/speech and mental health therapy, and opportunities for physical activity, among other benefits.” AAP

We agree with the AAP that the ideal scenario for fall 2020 is to bring our students back to school. Yet, we know that the work of reopening is far more complex than opening the doors and operating our schools in a traditional manner. We know that reopening is about far more than simply operations and safety. We need to consider the broader purpose served by public schools with regard to the intellectual, social, and emotional growth of our students. This work is complex, necessary, and important and we remain steadfastly committed to serving the children and families of our communities.

Ken Ellison Superintendent, Pavilion Central Schools Chairman of the Genesee Valley Chief Schools Officers Association

Kevin MacDonald District Superintendent, Genesee Valley BOCES