Seely Place covid classroom photo

Students sit at safely spaced desks at Seely Place Elementary School.

The mileposts are set. Edgemont schools are preparing to reopen with full-time, in-person learning.

“We envisioned an opportunity to finish the school year as closely as we can to the way we’d like to begin the next school year: with all students back to school in person,” Superintendent of the Edgemont School District Victoria Kniewel said in her opening remarks at the Edgemont Board of Education meeting March 23. Representatives from Edgemont’s elementary schools and junior/senior high school spoke to their individual transition plans as the Edgemont School District works toward the goal of becoming fully in-person by the end of the current school year, in preparation for an expected fully in-person 2021-22 school year. 

Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the Edgemont School District Michael Curtin gave an overview of the Edgemont schools’ transition timeline to in-person learning plans, reminding everyone that the school administrators had already announced March 9 their intention to attempt bringing all students back to campus by the end of April. 

“We still had to work out a lot of details but we’ve been spending the last two weeks doing just that,” Curtin said. “We know a lot more now than we did two weeks ago … We sent out parent surveys to understand which children would be remaining remote-only and who would be coming in in-person in the elementary schools.” 

Curtin went on to explain that a survey was also sent out to Edgemont Jr./Sr. High School (EHS) parents to determine sentiments around the inclusion of a full-day, in-person option using an adapted version of the current AM/PM hybrid model. After the meeting March 23, another survey was sent to EHS parents to give them an opportunity to voice their opinions on the newly presented nine-period model options.

As of Friday, March 26, Edgemont students classified as special education, those who have English as a new language, and grades K-2 were expected to return to school for in-person learning. Grades 3-4 are expected to return by April 14, grades 7-9 by April 15, grades 10-12 by April 19 and grades 5-6 by April 21. Remote-only instruction will continue to be available as an option for all students through the end of the 2020- ‘21 school year.    

According to EHS Assistant Principal MaryRose Joseph, “We have three major goals that we look to when we want to bring kids back to campus and [what the] ... schedule will look like.” The three goals are maintaining health and safety protocols, providing options that best fit the needs of students and families, and creating a full-day option for students in preparation for next year. Joseph made clear, however, that “the superseding goal has always been the health and safety of all students and faculty and staff on campus.” She explained that schools follow New York State Department of Health (DOH) guidelines surrounding health and safety, and the DOH in turn follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protocols. Joseph outlined the DOH’s five mitigation strategies that Edgemont follows. These include masking; 6-foot social distancing unless there is a barrier, then 3-foot social distancing is acceptable; hand-washing; respiratory hygiene via proper ventilation; and contact tracing and quarantining. Joseph said the Edgemont school system has been abiding by these protocols, and will adapt as the CDC and DOH make changes. 

At the elementary school levels, Seely Place Principal Eve Feuerstein and Greenville Principal Jennifer Allen went into more detail regarding what the day-to-day will look like now that students are expected to be fully in-person by the end of April, unless their parent has opted to continue in the remote-only model for the rest of the year. There is no hybrid option at the elementary level. 

Indeed, Feuerstein explained, “one of the biggest changes when we bring back grades 3 and 4, [then] 5 and 6, is that in grades 3 and 4 we will now be offering a remote-only teacher for our remote-only students. There will be no more remoting into the classroom experience. Those remote-only students will have a remote-only teacher like they have in grades K-2. It’s been very successful in those grades ... In grades 5 and 6, for our remote-only students, they will remain as part of the class environment, although they might be cohorted into one group, in one homeroom, it depends on the school.” 

That means remote students in grades K-4 will have a different remote-only teacher for the remainder of the school year, starting on April 14. 

“We are in the process of helping to support these teachers and prepare them to have a successful end of the school year, [and] so that our students have success as well as they transition over. We felt that this was in the best interest of the students and the teachers so that they can have a robust learning experience in this environment,” Feuerstein said.   

Lunch at the elementary school level will either take place outdoors in a picnic setting, where students will bring individual blankets and towels to sit on in a socially distanced environment, or, when there’s inclement weather, in the classrooms. While eating in the classrooms, students’ desks are socially distanced and there are sneeze-guard barriers around each desk. After eating, the classrooms are sanitized by a custodial crew. 

Edgemont School Board member Pamela Montgomery asked a clarifying question regarding air circulation, given the virus’s propensity to spread when aerosolized. Kniewel and Allen described what is being done on that front: “The main cleaning of the air has to do with ventilation,” Kniewel said. “[It] has to do with the air movement, and that’s why as we’ve brought more students back we’re testing the airflow in each classroom ... It’s the ongoing movement of the air — the ventilation of the air — that we’re focused on.” 

“We make sure the exterior doors are open [and] the doors to the hallway are open for cross ventilation as well,” Allen added, explaining that students are also encouraged to listen to music as they eat at their desks, instead of talking to one another.  

At the high school level, there will be fully in-person, hybrid and remote-only options for the remainder of the current school year, following a nine-period class schedule. EHS has currently been operating on a six-period AM/PM school schedule, but the administration believes the AM/PM model will no longer be a viable option as more and more students are physically phased into the high school. 

Originally, school administrators presented a full-day option utilizing the current AM/PM model, then shared a survey with the community to receive parents’ feedback. 

“We were a bit surprised to see how many families were interested in the full-day option, and how many students would be staying on campus during the transition period,” EHS Principal Kyle Hosier said, referring to the 72-minute break that exists for students following the AM schedule to leave campus, and those following the PM schedule to arrive. “Based on the interest, we do not believe that that AM/PM schedule with a full-day option is a viable option. The amount of time during the transition period that students would be free, and the number of students that would be on campus, presents serious concerns … [So] we announced that we would look into the feasibility of a nine-period full-day option,” Hosier added. 

The school district received 568 responses from EHS parents to the first survey delineating the in-person, hybrid and remote options utilizing the AM/PM model. The response rate represents approximately 57% of the student population. About 72% of parents indicated they would like their children to attend for a full day in person, while nearly 29% of parents would like their children to stay on campus during the transition period. Almost 40% of parents do not want their children to stay on campus during the transition. 

“We recognize that nearly 40% of families did not respond to the survey, so we don’t know their plans,” EHS Assistant Principal Jennifer Johnson said. “Nevertheless, the information we do have gives us a clear indication that there are health and safety concerns, particularly surrounding the transition period. Given the numbers of the parents who did respond, we could see approximately 500 students on campus during the transition. And given the length of the transition period, we have doubts about the ability to manage that number of students for that length of time given current masking and social distancing guidelines. So that led us to consider reverting to our traditional nine-period day schedule.” 

The nine-period schedule is the traditional schedule used by Edgemont prior to the pandemic. It includes nine classes, each 40 minutes long. Students are assigned to a 40-minute lunch period, which occurs during periods four, five, six or seven. 

“For students who want to stay fully remote … The fully remote option will stay in place for the remainder of the year,” Hosier said. “For students who want to move to the full-day model, using the nine-period school day will feel similar to what school was like last fall, and will be similar to what we expect school to look like next September ... We also know that we have some families that would like to have a hybrid option.” 

Hosier went on to describe how the hybrid model would function, explaining that many students and their families might still want to be on campus, but not stay for lunch. 

Hosier used a mock schedule of an eighth grade student as an example: “This student could be on campus periods one through five, transition [home] during their lunch period, and then attend classes remotely periods seven, eight and nine,” Hosier said. “Now the problem with that is if that is what they did every single day, they would never see their teachers in the afternoon. So what we could do is if [for example on Mondays] this student was on campus in the morning for periods one through five, [they could be] remote in the afternoon. The next day, [Tuesday], the student could alternate, so the student would be remote for periods one through five, commute to campus, and then be in person in the afternoon. That would make sure students see their teachers at least once every two days. If a student did not have that flexibility to be on campus and rotate their schedule like that, we would ask students to identify whether they’d be on campus before their lunch period, or after their lunch period. The lunch group provides the opportunity for students to either leave campus, or come to campus.” 

For those students who will remain on campus for the transitional lunch periods, Hosier explained that outdoor space would be maximized as much as possible. When the weather is inclement, however, students would be placed 6 feet apart in the cafeteria and other indoor spaces under supervision, to ensure social distancing is maintained during lunch periods. 

Hosier also reminded the meeting participants that seniors and juniors are allowed to leave campus during their lunch periods and return for class, and students in grades 7-10 are able to leave and come back if signed out by a parent via a Google form that will be sent daily via email

High school administrators understand the need to be flexible, so are including the option for those who come back in person via the hybrid model to transition to fully in-person when they feel comfortable doing so. 

Edgemont Board of Education vice president Judy Seiff brought to light that much of the community’s pushback and concerns have been around what feels like an almost abrupt transition to this new nine-period schedule from the six-period AM/PM model that has been working this past year. 

“I think what needs to be really clear is that as well as the AM/PM schedule has worked, there’s not an ability to offer a full-day option with the AM/PM schedule in a safe way because of the hundreds of students who would be free during the transition period, and in the adjacent time to the transition period,” Hosier explained. “And if we know that we can’t put together a safe plan with the AM/PM schedule, it means we need to move away from that. It is our belief that many families would like to have their students back on campus for the full day, and so we want to be able to provide that opportunity. That opportunity comes with the nine-period day. And why make that change at this point? … We’ll find out what the community wants when we send the survey out [after the meeting], but our sense is that our community does want an option for a full day. We would do that with a nine-period day, and the benefit of using the nine-period day at this point is that it does move us closer to what school will look like in September. 

“We are aware of the concerns related to COVID,” Hosier said, “[but] I think that we have a lot of great guidelines and procedures in place, and we would continue to reinforce those throughout the year.”

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