About 2,000 responses so far in Rome reopening survey

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The Rome school district has received about 2,000 responses so far from district families to a survey on whether they prefer instruction to be in-person, remote or a hybrid of those two methods for resuming school after COVID-19 closures.

Also, over 96% of families have internet access, based on survey results so far, district Assistant Superintendent for Educational Programs Christopher Brewer told the Board of Education at a special board meeting Thursday night that was on a virtual remote basis.

Families’ responses to the instructional method request form are due by Aug. 14 and are geared to help shape the district’s reopening plans. A decision by Gov. Andrew Cuomo was expected today on whether schools statewide will reopen this fall.

Superintendent Peter C. Blake said last week the district plans for in-person instruction to be available for all pre-K to grade 6 students who desire it, unless requests from families in the survey prove too large to be accommodated under social distancing requirements that will limit class sizes; otherwise a hybrid method combining in-person or remote learning would be pursued. For grades 7-12, the district already has determined they would have to use a hybrid format based on schools’ available capacity amid COVID-19 health and safety requirements.

The board’s special meeting, requested by member Karen Fontana, included discussions of the district’s reopening plan and efforts to provide equitable opportunities for all students, plus other topics including board objectives and meeting formats. Among comments:

• In the instructional method survey, for families who do not respond, their schools will “be reaching out to them personally,” Brewer told the board. Schools will “be calling those families that do not have (internet) access or who have not responded to the survey, to get their answers....,” he added.

Fontana later noted the need to “ensure equity for all our students...whatever method we’re going to be using to deliver instruction.” This includes “all the kids who need online access have it...if they need a Chromebook they have it,” she said. The district has been distributing Chromebooks for students who are in need of them to assist at-home learning.

In terms of students who may not have equitable access to computers at home or WiFi connections, the district is “looking into those situations to make sure that it’s equitable for all students,” said Brewer. The district is “very close to a one-to-one environment” regarding computer technology for each student, said Brewer, adding the district is “backlogged a little bit with some Chromebooks right now.”

“I just wanted to make sure...we keep that...at the top of our list,” Fontana said of district efforts to provide technology access. Brewer noted district efforts in “making sure that every kid, every family, has access to the resources that they need during this time.”

• For board meeting formats including virtual remote methods still being used amid the COVID-19 situation, Fontana said the last meeting involved “a lot of problems” in which people could “not hear us” on the remote feeds.

Board member Leigh Loughran commented the board “waited way too long to take public comment” during the last meeting. The online Zoom meeting format “leaves a lot to be desired” for “interacting with the public,” she said, adding “five months into this process....we still haven’t been able to figure out how we’re handling a Zoom meeting.” She referred to “poor planning on our part.”

Board Vice President Tanya Davis said “we definitely don’t want to discourage people from participating” in the meetings, regarding public access. She mentioned the need to “do a better job” letting people know about the meetings including through the district website and Facebook.

• For board objectives overall, board President Paul Hagerty said a recent compilation of members’ ideas found that, besides the reopening activities, some want to eventually revisit discussions about redistricting which could include revising attendance zones for elementary schools. It was a topic “we sort of put off...when the COVID problem came along,” Hagerty commented.

Board members’ objectives also mentioned wanting to see more data for such categories as attendance, academics, and health, Hagerty noted.

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