Hendrick Hudson School Re-Opening Plan: A Call to Action

Hendrick Hudson School Re-Opening Plan: A Call to Action

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Concerned Parents of Hendrick Hudson started this petition to Office of the Hen Hud Board Of Education Hendrick Hudson School District

We request that parents and other stakeholders of Hendrick Hudson school district read and sign this statement below that will be shared with the Hendrick Hudson School District BOE. 

The following undersigned members of the Hendrick Hudson School District are in agreement with the statements made here. 

An effective school board plays an important oversight role in keeping our schools on track. The school board should set the vision and goals for the school district and hold the district accountable for results, making certain that the desires of the community it serves are met. A trustee’s role should be proactive and include challenging the district’s administration when necessary to ensure that the voices of the community are heard.  In this respect, the School Board is our watchdog organization and the residents of our community are depending on our Trustees to stand up for what we need.

Two of the key responsibilities of the Board should be to engage with the community and communicate their actions to the community, keeping the public informed of the work being accomplished in the district, the district’s progress, and the challenges it faces.  The flow of information to the community should not be limited to one individual source; our community needs to hear as well from the officials it elected to represent us.  The lack of transparency and written communication throughout the summer and especially during the process of planning for the school reopening has been and continues to be a source of frustration for many community members.  

Our concerns are as follows.  Please note that we have referenced specific page numbers, where relevant, from the HHSD Return to School Plan that was released on July 31st, 2020.

Lack of stakeholder involvement: Our school administration, unlike our neighboring school districts and the State Task Force, has not created a more active task force that includes ALL stakeholders - building leaders, teachers, counselors, parents, students, and support staff - to aid them in developing our plans for returning to school in the 2020-2021 school year.  We find this path unacceptable and hold the Board accountable for not demanding that multiple voices be considered during this process.

The administration’s claim that the two parent surveys submitted via email satisfied the need to include the parents in the process grossly misjudges the importance of two-way communication and the accuracy of any information gleaned from them.  

The results of the survey conducted in June are skewed.  First, there were no direct questions that asked respondents if they preferred a hybrid model or an all remote learning option (see attachment A); respondents were only asked if they were comfortable sending their children to school with social distancing guidelines and enhanced safety measures, neither of which was adequately defined. Second, we had not yet begun Phase 3 of reopening and therefore did not have the knowledge of what moving around might look like.  Third, the majority of the questions were irrelevant as they dealt with CDC and state-mandated guidelines that will take place regardless of personal preference. Last, the district only had a 36% response rate and not all stakeholders were polled (incoming kindergarten families and teachers were omitted).  The results of the second survey have not yet been released.  Neither of these surveys can be considered as giving the administration an accurate idea of the thoughts, concerns, questions, or needs of the parents in our district.

Surveys in and of themselves provide a very limited capacity to gather concrete information simply because they do not allow for true expression of concerns and thoughts.  The questions in the survey released this week will not provide answers that will give any true guidance, clarity, or focus as to what our next steps should be.  To really gauge the feelings within the district, the Board and administration need to engage with parents via focus groups, town halls, and other face-to-face means of communication (whether via Zoom, Google Meets, or another online platform).

Remote learning: As noted, the requirements and guidelines from the NYSED require schools to take attendance remotely and provide “substantive daily interaction” between students and teachers.  We are in agreement that, under the hybrid plan (and stay at home plan), synchronous, live at home instruction must take place concurrently with what is going on in the classroom. We believe this is the least disruptive plan for students if (and when) COVID cases appear within our buildings and/or begin to rise within our community, and students, siblings, teachers and other staff must be forced to quarantine (see page 14). It also supports positive mental health outcomes and keeps students connected to their peers and teachers. It allows for instant feedback and is not static learning.  It also provides structure and accountability for both students and faculty.  We believe that there are no technical difficulties that our district faces to executing this plan, but that there may be concerns regarding privacy.  As we know other districts around us are planning for live-streamed instruction, we hope that both the administration and the Board of Education are working with our teachers’ union to overcome these challenges and provide the best teaching and learning environments for all involved.

The administration has not been clear as to whether parents will have a choice of opting for full-remote learning for their children.  While the superintendent has evidently told individual parents that such a choice will exist, his written communications indicate nothing of the sort.  Many of our families will need this option for a multitude of reasons and the district must make it clear that, unless the state specifically prohibits it, this option will be available for any family who elects. 

Before parents are expected to make a choice between in-person and full-remote learning, the district must provide specific details of what a “day in the life” will look like for their students.  Many parents, especially at the elementary level, may not realize the requirements that will be made of their children and their teachers.  Parents at all levels should be allowed to view sample schedules and hear from their building principals, before making a decision.

The increased number of elementary classrooms will require significant additional staffing.  Bringing in non-classroom teachers to instruct specific grade level classes raises concerns over whether they have adequate training and experience to fulfill the needs of the students they are serving.

The additional challenges that remote learning brings necessitate strong support for our teachers, including training in the online platforms to be used as well as professional development in making remote learning as robust and engaging as possible, emphasizing the need for student participation and interaction, and creating a student’s own sense of agency and accomplishment. These programs need to be implemented immediately so as to give our teachers adequate time to prepare before the school year begins in just a few short weeks.

Building safety and accommodations: This is not an exhaustive list, as the concerns and questions are too numerous to include, but we feel the following issues should be addressed immediately in more detail:

  • Each building must have a COVID Site Safety Coordinator, as well as a COVID Sick Room and a “regular” Sick Room.
  • Each building does not currently have a full-time nurse on staff.
  • Proper ventilation, sanitization, etc. – parents should be provided with a building-by-building update of what recommendations are already met and what the district is doing to comply with those not currently in place.

Sufficient training is required of all district staff for:

  • Identification of the signs of illness
  • Proper use of PPE and other safety requirements
  • Regulations for quarantine
  • Costs:  If additional federal funding is not provided and state aid is cut, how will the district pay for the necessary required PPE and other equipment?

The undersigned parents respectfully request that the Board of Education take an active role in working together with the administration to address the above concerns and take action on the following items:

  • Provide clear, regular (i.e., weekly or biweekly) communications updating the parents on the work being undertaken by the district.  Such communications should reflect the collaboration amongst the organizations and departments involved, including the PTAs where warranted, and not be representative of a single person.
  • Publicly commit to a full-time remote learning option with live stream instruction for any family who wishes to participate (provided same is not prohibited by the state) and ensure that training and professional development programs begin immediately.
  • Provide detailed specifics of the district’s cleaning and disinfecting plans.
  • Provide detailed specifics of the plans in place to identify and test, where allowable and necessary, for the virus, as well as the detailed specifics of the plans to manage identified exposures and the resulting closures and quarantines.
  • Submit a survey to parents specifically regarding transportation, which includes details of the plans currently in place to manage transportation to and from school and school-related events (i.e., extracurricular activities, if and when such will be allowed).
  • Establish a separate email box for stakeholders to submit questions, which email shall be overseen by 1-2 members of the administration as well as 1-2 members of the Board of Education.  Questions and answers should be posted, as permitted, on the district website and/or social media so that parents can see what questions have already come in and been addressed.

We understand that the guidelines are and will continue to change throughout the coming weeks.  We understand that information provided today may be superseded by new information that comes out tomorrow, and that plans made by the district may need to be amended and revised, sometimes more than once.  However, keeping parents in the dark while the district waits for “final” guidelines and recommendations is creating an untenable situation for parents, students, and staff alike. 

The situation we are currently facing – together – requires full transparency in the form of emails, social media postings, phone calls (when email does not suffice), and the easy access of dated information on the district website.

The governor has repeatedly, through the state guidelines and in his public remarks, emphasized the importance of including parents in the reopening planning process.  Our parents, including our elected PTA leaders, stand ready to assist.  It would be shameful of the Board and administration to ignore them.

ATTACHMENT A

DISTRICT SURVEYS PARENTS ON REOPENING OF SCHOOL

On June 15, the district sent a survey to all Hendrick Hudson School District families, requesting their opinions regarding a number of topics related to the reopening of school in September. At the time the survey was sent, the district was awaiting guidance from the New York State Education Department and wanted to find out what Hen Hud families were thinking about potential options.

The district sent 2,702 surveys via email and received 981 responses. It should be noted that incoming kindergarten families were not included in this survey; a separate survey has been sent to those households, and results will be shared, once they become available.

The following is a summary of the responses received by the district:

83% of respondents said that they would be comfortable sending their children to school if the following guidelines were met: (1) smaller classes to provide social distancing; (2) health screening of staff and students; (3) requirement of staff and students to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and (4) enhanced cleaning/disinfectant procedures.

60% of respondents said they would be comfortable having their child ride the bus, if the district could provide social distancing, enhanced cleaning procedures and a requirement of students and drivers to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). 35% of respondents said that, while they were open to schools reopening, they would choose to drive their children to school.

68% of parents said they felt their child would be comfortable wearing face masks/coverings and wouldn’t try to remove them frequently, when social distancing was not possible.

91% said their child had a cloth mask/face covering at home that they could wear to school, and 91% said they could provide an extra face covering at school, if necessary.

95% of respondents said that they were supportive of daily temperature checks/health screenings for students and staff.

94% said they understood and could comply with immediate pick up of their child, if the child registered a temperature above public health guidelines or exhibited COVID-19 symptoms.

97% said that enhanced attendance restrictions for staff and students who are ill would be appropriate.

82% said they would understand enhanced restrictions within the school building to enforce social distancing and avoid congregation of students (i.e., cafeteria, bathrooms during passing times, closing locker rooms, etc.).

92% would prefer their family be scheduled to be in school on the same days, should the district create a hybrid schedule comprising in-school and distance learning.

41% of respondents said that if the district had to create a hybrid schedule, they would need older siblings to provide child care for younger siblings, due to parent/guardian work schedules.

The district has recently received reopening guidance and is currently making plans for the fall, making this feedback critically important. A separate survey was sent out in July, utilizing a different format (ThoughtExchange) and requesting detailed input from parents and school district staff. Those results will be shared as well, as soon as they are available.

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