City school district releases re-opening plan

In this 2018 file photo, students wait to enter Kingsford Park Elementary School on West Fifth Street. Oswego City School District officials this week announced plans for the partial re-opening of school buildings for the 2020-2021 school year.

OSWEGO — The Oswego City School District will conduct limited in-person instruction for elementary students with a total distance learning model for older Buccaneers, officials announced this week.

Schools around Oswego County and New York are preparing for the most arduous school year in decades due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and Empire State districts were recently required to submit finalized re-opening plans to the state Department of Education (NYSED).

For new OCSD Superintendent Dr. Mathis Calvin, it’s been a trial by fire.

“This was like building the airplane as you fly it,” said Calvin, hired just last month to replace outgoing superintendent Dr. Dean Goewey. “Everybody is trying to figure out how to best do it. There really was no one size that fit all.”

It was important for the district to find the right plan for Oswego, despite other local districts across the finding ways to get students into classrooms on a more frequent basis.

“We looked at a lot of different plans, but we felt our plan works best for our district,” Calvin said. “Something that might work in a district that only has 400 or 500 kids, we felt a lot of those things wouldn’t be applicable to our district with nearly 4,000 kids in it.”

Under the district’s plan, all kindergarten through sixth graders would attend school in person two days a week. Each classroom in the district will be split into two groups, with students attending days in pairs: Monday and Tuesday, or Thursday and Friday from 8:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. All elementary schools will be closed for disinfecting on Wednesdays.

Arrangements will be made for students or families to opt to have all remote learning if desired, officials said.

“Whenever students are not in school, they will be provided with remote learning, and they can contact their students for support from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.,” Calvin said.

All students in grades 7 through 12 would receive their educational program virtually five days a week between 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. There will still be nine periods a day with classes being around 30 minutes each, Calvin said.

“All secondary students will be given an instructional schedule to follow, like they would in high school. ... Students should log onto their classes at the specified times which will be listed in their schedules,” Calvin said.

Pre-k students at Charles E. Riley, Fitzhugh Park, Kingsford Park and Minetto elementary schools will also be able to attend classes two days a week, either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday.

A select group of students with individualized education plans or English-as-a-second-language learners will be admitted to school buildings for in-person learning four days a week, with virtual classes on Wednesdays.

On Wednesday, two statewide teachers unions  — the New York State United Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers — demanded state health officials issue clear protocols for how and when school districts must close their buildings, and how health officials will perform contact tracing and initiate quarantines in the event of positive COVID-19 tests this fall. The unions said districts must err on the side of caution at all times.

“This is no time to take risks,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said. ”If the state allows school buildings to re-open, districts must be prepared to close them in the event of a positive case. But efforts can’t stop there. Clear state guidance is needed to ensure that confusion doesn’t obstruct serious efforts to stop the spread of this virus in our schools and in our communities.”

Calvin said members of local bargaining units were involved in the task force to put the reopening plan together. Other committee members included parents, administrators and community members.

“Monumental isn’t even the right word, probably, but thank you all for the time and effort you’ve put in to get our kids back to school,” board member Pamela Dowd said.

The next steps, Calvin said, are communicating the plan to everyone involved and submitting it to the state for approval. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to make determinations on school re-openings this week.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us. This will not be the easiest of years,” Calvin said. “This will be a challenging year, but I believe as we continue to work together and collaborate that we will do a really good job. ... We will get through this, we will rise to the occasion, we will do what we need to for students and we will manage this issue until we get to the other side.”

More information about Oswego’s reopening plan, along with a question and answer document can be found on the school website at oswego.org.

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