District eyes recommendations in return to in-person instruction

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The Rome school district might have pre-K to grade 2 students resume daily in-person instruction Oct. 12, two weeks ahead of previously projected, pending various COVID-19 factors including the district’s ability to transport students amid COVID restrictions.

Meanwhile, students in grades 3-12 might return on Oct. 26 as previously planned, with grades 3-6 potentially in-person daily while grades 7-12 could be in a hybrid format combining in-person and remote instruction, according to a Board of Education update.

The update was presented to the board Thursday night by school district Superintendent Peter C. Blake, who emphasized that several factors need to be considered for those goals to be achieved. Among them are that regional information and data relating to COVID-19 consistently need to remain low and safe; a new survey of families to determine how many students will opt for in-person learning; ability to transport students in a safe and timely manner; adjusting daily elementary schedules to accommodate in-person instruction plus remote instruction for those receiving it; continued professional development for teachers.

The school district began its 2020-21 academic year last week on an all-remote basis for students in general education, due to the COVID-19 situation.

When asked whether a potential Oct. 12 return would include five days of in-person instruction per week, Blake said he hopes to do so for the elementary grade levels, contingent on transportation capacities and available space under social-distancing requirements. Blake later noted that if the district is able to get pre-K to grade 6 on a five-day per week schedule, it would “go for it.” For grades 7-12, Blake said it is highly likely they would have to be in a hybrid educational format. He mentioned the size of Rome Free Academy classrooms as one of the factors.

Regarding a potential Oct. 12 return for pre-K to grade 2 students, Blake said that in conversations with teachers of the youngest students it was felt that bringing students back to school as soon as possible would be in their best interests. That also was based on “what we’re seeing regionally,” he added.

When asked if the district could accommodate students if 100% opted in to return to school, Blake said it could not be done unless they are able to sit less than six feet apart while wearing masks. The district does not plan to pursue “simultaneous learning” in which some students are instructed in-person and others remotely at the same time, Blake said. It can be a “nightmare” logistically and is not fair primarily for the students at home.

The district could stagger schedules for in-person and remote learning, he added.

The upcoming survey of families regarding upcoming education plans will be finalized by early next week, and then will be distributed, Blake said.

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