Governor’s Cuomo’s Plan for Schools Has Me Worried (Editorial)
Now that Governor Cuomo has given the thumbs up for schools to return in September, the next obstacle for administrators will be setting up three meetings with parents, and one additional meeting with teachers, so that they can each give their concerns and ask questions about the re-opening plan. The meetings, according to the Governor, likely will be online and each must be conducted by August 21st.
While some school districts have already offered town hall type meetings with parents and teachers, others have relied solely on focus groups comprised of a handful of teachers, parents and administrators. Some districts have been relatively silent. But now, with this directive from Governor Cuomo, schools are going to have to scurry to open the flood gates of questions and concerns parents and teachers have, and it's likely, there will be many.
Some Possible Questions
What happens if a school has an outbreak of COVID-19? What happens if a school is using the hybrid model which splits the student population into two groups, and parents of young children struggle with daycare? And the biggest question of all - what happens if the parents aren't happy with a school's reopening plan in general? Will the school be required to take the advice of parents and teachers and modify their plan, or take the advice into consideration and make no changes at all?
During Governor Cuomo's telephone conference press event on Friday, he reiterated that ultimately it will be parents and teachers who dictate how each district's school re-opening will work. What does that exactly mean?
If parents or teachers have objections to the way their district is re-opening, currently it would seem that the administration will have the option to listen and then basically ignore as there's not a mandate from the Governor that requires the district to take any action.
During the press event, Cuomo did say that a teachers union could sue their district over re-opening concerns, but then dismissed that option quickly because he said that's not the relationship New York has with its teachers.
Here's another problem with these virtual town hall discussions- what kind of changes would it be possible for a district to accomplish after August 21st, even if they were willing? They would only have two weeks to adjust before students enter the classrooms. Once again, it seems we're weeks behind in being able to execute.
I'm afraid that this town hall meeting idea is going to be a virtual disaster for some schools (pardon the pun). Some districts will almost certainly reflect the country's political divide where people are polar opposites when it comes to how we should get back to business or even whether or not their kids need to wear a mask.
Who is this person claiming to be Governor Cuomo?
During Friday's press event, Governor Cuomo said that each district and it's community will determine how their schools re-open. Since when? This is THE Governor Cuomo who still won't allow bowling alleys and gyms to re-open. The same governor who closed schools in March and continued to keep them closed as we sat on the edge of our seats to see what he was going to allow at his next press event. This is also the governor who dictated almost every aspect of what schools could and couldn't do for graduation.
Now, at the most important moment of all as we figure out how to re-open, he's basically leaving it all up to the individual districts, administrators and their board members to navigate through uncharted waters to figure out a plan that works for teachers, staff, students, parents and the community. I believe that's asking an awful lot out of people who have basically operated using the same general system and playbook year after year for the last 70 years.
Let's face it, schools are now forced with the task of reinventing the wheel and coming up with new plans for transportation, in-person/distance learning, health and safety of students/staff/teachers - with sometimes differing guidance from the Health Department and the State Department of Education. Guidance, by the way, that wasn't even released until only a few weeks ago. It sure makes you realize the value of those school board member elections and the hiring of qualified superintendents and administrators. We're now asking for these people to build a completely new model in just a few weeks and I'm afraid that is a very large ask.
It's Too Late to Do-Over
Unlike being surprised by the virus in March, this is something we've had five months to figure out. Once again, we're left playing with the cards we've been dealt and it certainly didn't have to be this way. I understand, we weren't sure where we would be with the virus, but a base plan from the state would have allowed our districts to work much smarter.
One option could have been to bring the smartest people in education together to come up with plans for schools based on size using a system similar to how schools are categorized in athletics. Every school is broken down by size, with New York City basically serving as its own entity. There could be New York City, double A, A, B, C and D. Each plan, while similar, would differ based on the size of the school's population. These plans, rolled out right after July 4th, could then be modified based on each school's individual needs, through their BOCES, which could work in harmony with their county's health department. At least with this option, we would all be starting from the same place and schools would then customize that plan for their individual community. The plans could also be modified based on where the infection and hospitalization rate was.
Unfortunately, this isn't the way it was done and there's little time for change as in just a few weeks, 700 of New York's school districts will travel down different paths that we hope will be effective and safe. But, instead of having the summer to strategize how to effectively and safely execute their reopening plan, they've been busy working all summer long creating that plan, thus leaving very little time to figure out how to execute it.
I really feel that in some districts, this could be very ugly; but let's be honest, I talk for a living. What do I know? Monday morning arm chair quarterbacks usually have all the answers and somehow, usually because the game is already been played, they seem to be right.
Bill Keeler is host of the Keeler in the Morning Show on WIBX and his wife is a first grade teacher.