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State education officials gathering input for reopening guidelines

Shinichi Sugiyama


The New York State Board of Regents and State Education Department are holding meetings across the state to gather input on how to reopen and meet the needs of students in the fall.

Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa opened Wednesday’s regional discussionby saying how the pandemic and recent events have exposed the inequities in New York’s education system.

“This systemic injustice only strengthens our resolve to ensure education equity for all students. I’m urging you to keep the issue of equity at the forefront of your thinking today,” said Rosa.

The Reopening Schools Task Force meeting Wednesday was held for counties in the Southern Tier, Central New York, and Mohawk Valley regions. Stakeholders include parents, school personnel including teachers and administrators, school board members, and others.

Stakeholders are being asked to share what they’ve experienced during the pandemic shutdowns and how can the state improve and take proper precautions in the fall.

Regents Board Vice Chancellor T. Andrew Brown told participants that their input would be gathered for guidelines, not mandates.

“We understand that every school and every district is unique. We want to allow for flexibility and leeway,” said Brown.

Prior to the breakout sessions, the regional meeting included presentations by experts on infectious disease and so-called Social and Emotional Learning.

Breakout sessions focused on categories like teaching and learning, HR and staffing, transportation, special education, and English Language Learners.  

Afterwards, state education officials presented what they learned.

State Education Department Director of Curriculum and Instruction MaryBeth Casey reported back that stakeholders want to think beyond merely instruction as part of reopening.

“Something a student brought up that I thought was very helpful is that…if it is necessary to move to remote instruction, we need to think more about what our students are missing extracurricular as well as academically, right? So attending to those social/emotional needs. So much was canceled at the end of this year,” said Casey.

State Education Department Associate Commissioner for the Office of Bilingual Education & World Languages Elisa Alvarez said stakeholders want more action to reach vulnerable populations.

“Inequities in access and connectivity in students, our most vulnerable, need to be responded to,” said Alvarez.

Casey, too, heard students with disabilities and English Language Learners often struggled with online instruction.

“But some of the teachers in the rooms I was in brought up, and administrators, not just those populations – some populations of students, surprisingly, some of your really high performers – did not take as well to an online type of remote instruction as one would have thought they would,” said Casey.

Alvarez said the “most critical” item mentioned was the desire for a changing how the school year is structured, including the minimum number of school days.

“They were requesting that the Board of Regents think about flexibility and guidance around the 180 days,” said Alvarez.

The next meeting will be held for the Capital Region, Mid-Hudson Valley, and North Country regions on June 22nd. The fourth and final meeting will be held on June 24th for the New York City and Long Island regions.

The Board of Regents and State Education Department then plan on developing guidelines, with a presentation on the proposed changes set for the July 13th Board of Regents meeting.