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Tupper Lake releases school reopening plans

TUPPER LAKE — The school district has released its COVID-19 reopening plan for this fall, which it sent to the state for approval on Friday.

The 37-page document — drafted by a 61-member committee of school staff, administration, teachers, parents and students — includes options for live, remote-only learning, a limited in-person learning schedule and hybrid methods of education.

Russ Bartlett, the new district superintendent, is the school’s COVID-19 safety coordinator. He said parents with questions are encouraged to call or email him.

Bartlett said though he is unsure when the state will approve each district’s plans, the governor will speak on school reopening again on Friday.

Pre-kindergarden and BOCES students will be able to attend class in-person every day, due to their smaller class sizes. Students take BOCES classes at the Adirondack Educational Center in Saranac Lake, along with students from Saranac Lake, Lake Placid and Long Lake.

Kindergarten through sixth-grade students will attend every day but Wednesday, when the buildings will be disinfected.

Seventh- through 12th-grade students will be split into “Red” and “Black” groups — the school’s colors — which will attend school in-person two days a week and remotely three days a week, on an alternating schedule. Bartlett said these groups are being determined now and that the school is using a “complicated algorithm” to decide which group each student will go into.

He said they are trying to keep family members together on the same day and schedule certain classes for certain days, to keep class sizes small.

One group will be at school in person on Monday and Tuesday, spending Thursday and Friday working remotely, while the other attends Monday and Tuesday remotely and Thursday and Friday remotely. Both groups will attend remotely on Wednesday, while the buildings receive a thorough scrub-down. On that day teachers and students will meet in smaller groups or for one-on-one instruction.

The plan document says the committee chose this schedule for three reasons: Child care for the younger ones was a parent priority, middle- and high-school students are more likely to get all their work done remotely than their younger peers, and gaps in basic educational concepts are more likely to develop and cause long-term problems for younger students.

Remote learning

All students will do remote learning for at least one day of the week, more for older students. Every student will be allowed to do entirely remote education, opting in and out of this option at 10-week intervals.

“Remote learning will look radically different in the 2020-21 school year than it did at the end of 2020,” the TLCSD plan states.

This school year will bring the ability for live, virtual classroom attendance. This is called “synchronous” learning, as all students and the teacher are interacting at the same time.

“Students who are remote learners will be expected to follow the same normal class schedule they do while in-person,” the plan says.

Remote students will have their attendance taken, be expected to engage in activities in class, meet deadlines and do everything they would if they were in the physical classroom.

“The flexibility of this plan is that whether you are in school or at home, you do the same thing at the same time every day,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett said teachers are encouraged to be in the building five days a week, but if ill or at risk, they can work from home.

He also said the ease of access to technology could mean the end of “snow days.”

Technology

Bartlett said a district survey identified a “handful” of technological access gaps in the school community. Bartlett said the current supply of 400 Chromebooks has been pre-assigned to students and that the district is investigating providing mobile Wi-Fi via a 5G mobile hotspot on school buses.

The district is also mapping municipal Wi-Fi hotspots to provide a list to families.

Google Classrooms will be district’s classroom livestreaming platform of choice.

Inside the buildings

Parents will be required to check if their student’s body temperature is below 100 degrees Fahrenheit at home, and fill out an electronic or physical student entry ticket with questions about if they have any symptoms, have been in contact with someone who has COVID-like symptoms or have been tested.

Staff and students will be required to wear masks at all times, when not sitting at their desks or socially distanced.

Pre-kindergarden through fifth-grade students will be able to socially distance themselves in their existing district classrooms.

Sixth-grade students, typically housed within L.P. Quinn Elementary School, will be moved to the Baker Wing of Tupper Lake middle-high school to meet the requirements. According to the document, the Middle-High School allows for 50% of the student population to be housed while social distancing, hence the two-group system.

The document says some sinks and toilets are being disabled to ensure proper social distancing. All district drinking fountains were recently converted to more sanitary bottle-filling stations, and bottles will be made available to students who request one.

Air conditioners are being fitted with MERV-13 filters.

“The district will be using classroom dining to dramatically reduce he amount of food consumption in common areas,” the document says. “Students will wash their hands at the beginning and end of lunch. Students will be advised to limit any surface touching on their way to and from the cafeteria to pick up their meals. … Social distancing and use of cafeteria and/or classroom monitors will assist in limiting and discouraging food sharing.”

The document says plans may change during the school year, depending on the danger of the virus. It also says there will likely be a temporary stop to all in-person instruction when the annual flu season hits.

“We also recognize that historical record of cyclic seasonal influenza outbreaks puts us on a course that could easily force the cessation of in-person education at some time during the 2020-21 school year,” the plan says.

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