Lake Placid school officials field questions on reopening

Two banners hang in front of the Lake Placid Middle/High School on June 1. (News photo — Andy Flynn)

LAKE PLACID — Lake Placid school administrators fielded dozens of questions and concerns from parents Wednesday, Aug. 19 as the district prepares to resume full in-person classes next month.

The district’s first of three parent forums on reopening at 9 a.m., hosted on the teleconferencing app Zoom, drew more than 60 participants at its peak. Many of the questions were centered around safety precautions to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, how remote learning will work and what students’ day-to-day schedules will look like this year. The second forum was set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, and the third was planned for 3 p.m. Thursday.

Citing the district’s small class sizes and spacious classrooms, and the region’s low coronavirus infection rate, Superintendent Roger Catania outlined why the district has chosen to resume classes in-person. He said the district has been keeping an eye on how students respond to remote learning, and he believes in-person instruction better suits local students’ needs.

The first day of school is Sept. 8. Nearly every aspect of the school day — bus rides, meals, classroom instruction, athletics and walking the halls — will be altered to accommodate face masks, social distancing and lots of hygienic maintenance.

The district plans to follow public health recommendations by asking parents to conduct daily health checks at home and re-checking students upon arrival, by cleaning classrooms thoroughly, requiring students and staff to wear masks when social distancing isn’t possible, separating students into small groups, and limiting entry to school buildings — but there are contingency plans in place in the event that a positive case is confirmed.

Altogether, the district has set five different plans, which administrators will be able to transition between as needed. The plans range from traditional in-person instruction without restrictions, to a hybrid model of some students at home and others in school, to full remote instruction, which students experienced at the end of this past school year.

The district’s full plans are available at www.lpcsd.org/district/coronavirus-update.

COVID testing

COVID testing won’t be required because schools have been encouraged by the state to not take on testing, and the turnaround time for asymptomatic cases can be upward of 10 days, Catania said. But the school is encouraging students and staff to get tested at one of the local hospitals if they can.

If a student starts exhibiting symptoms during the school year, their parents will be asked to send them to the doctor, and a doctor’s permission will be required before the student can return, according to Catania.

“This is the year when we ask families to be much more cautious before sending students to school,” he said. “There’s going to be more responding to symptoms than we’ve ever done before. I think we all need to be prepared for that.”

Teachers and staff have been instructed to stay home if they’re ill, Catania said. The district is working on expanding its substitute teacher list.

If an outbreak happens, the Essex County Health Department will get involved, contact tracing to identify those who may have been exposed will happen, and those who are at risk will be quarantined.

Elementary school

At the elementary school, parents would be encouraged to transport their children to and from school if possible. Students can’t arrive before 8 a.m.

Parents won’t be allowed to enter the school building, so students who are dropped off will be escorted inside by a staff member.

For students who need public transportation, there will be assigned seating on buses. Students will be required to enter buses from the back and wear masks at all times.

Elementary school students will be put into small groups to limit the possibility of mass exposure to the virus should one student test positive.

Teachers will be encouraged to use the school’s outdoor spaces — such as its trail network — for some classes, when possible. The use of “common areas,” such as cafeterias, will be limited at both school buildings. Outdoor recess will take place in six different locations, according to Elementary School Principal Sonja Franklin.

“We won’t be mixing classrooms,” she said.

Students in kindergarten and third grade will leave school at 2:45 p.m., kids in first and fourth grade will leave at 2:50 p.m., and students in second and fifth grade will leave at 3 p.m. each day.

The first few weeks of class will focus on mental health rather than academics, Franklin said. Teachers will also conduct benchmarking to gauge where students are in their studies.

“We need to see where the students are at,” Franklin said.

Middle-high school

Middle-high school students who walk to school will be asked to enter the school through the cafeteria door, where they will be screened by a staff member. Students who arrive by car will have to wait in their cars until a staff member takes their temperature and they’re cleared to enter the building. Parents who send their kids to school by bus will be asked to screen their child before they leave each morning. The school has provided a form for parents to fill out at https://tinyurl.com/lpcsdhealthcheck. Students who take the bus will be screened again by a staff member when they arrive at school, then enter the building through the rear entrance. No students will be allowed to enter the building until 7:20 a.m., according to the school’s reopening plan.

All middle-high school students will be segmented into “cohorts,” or groups of 10 to 12 people, and they will stay in those groups for most of the day. Middle School Principal Theresa Lindsay said students will stay in the same classroom while teachers rotate in and out. All students won’t have access to their lockers at once.

Dismissal at the middle-high school will start at 2 p.m. Students won’t have a 10th period, and the number of classes each day will be reduced from nine to five.

Physical education will still be required, according to High School Principal Tammy Casey. Students will be placed at least 12 feet apart and there will be a greater focus on individual activities rather than team activities. Chorus and band classes will still happen but will focus more on music theory and history. Students will receive individual ensemble instruction.

BOCES is offering some classes in-person, others remotely. The district will be reducing the number of students who travel on a bus to BOCES, so students who can drive can get a permission slip to drive themselves.

There will be no after-school activities.

Remote learning

At least 7% of families have chosen to keep their children home and continue remote learning, according to Catania. He expects that number to rise as the first day of school gets closer.

Parents who choose to keep their parents remotely will need to commit to that decision for at least two weeks, regardless of whether the child is at the elementary or middle-high schools.

Administrators aim to make remote learning as interactive as possible. Lindsay said at the middle-high school, teachers will receive training for how best to engage remote students. In-person and remote students will be able to use a chatroom to interact with one another. Tests will be administered using a Google platform.

Those who want to have their children learn remotely in the upcoming school year are encouraged to call their child’s principal to notify the school.

“We don’t want you sending your children if you feel they are unsafe,” Catania said. “We will have that option for you.

“We know this is a work in progress, and we’ll continue to work on it as we go.”