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Schools prepare for in-person learning, vaccinations, and new guidance

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Across New York and much of the country, schools are retiring their pandemic hybrid learning models, in hopes of giving their students a normal school life.

Nearly every educator you ask will tell you that in-person learning is substantially better for students than its remote alternative. Something else they may tell you is that many school districts, particularly smaller or more rural districts, don’t have the staffing or resources to offer a hybrid model anymore.

“There's no way for us in Central Square to be able to provide that level of in person learning and a whole other program for the remote option for hundreds of students,” said Central Square superintendent, Thomas Colabufo. “We don't have the staffing, and we don't have an additional $25 million to do that.”

Colabufo said it would cost millions to properly offer both in-person and remote learning options.

“Most schools just like for us, we don't have that money in our budget to be able to do that,” he said.

John Kuryla, the president of the North Syracuse Education Association, said his district also just doesn’t have the bandwidth to offer a remote option.

“You can't pull individual teachers out of the broader system without seeing the ramifications run through the whole piece the whole system itself,” said Kuryla.

This comes as central New York’s COVID-19 positivity rate hovers around 4.7% as of Sunday and remains an area of high transmission rates according to the Center for Disease Control.

Because of the growing number of cases across the region and state, state officials released updated school reopening guidance just days before the start of the school year. One notable change? There’s no more recommendation for three feet of social distancing between students.

Kuryla agrees with this decision saying that physical distancing is impractical for many classrooms.

“Proper instructional practice, the sharing of materials, the grouping of kids, the constant ebb and flow of ideas and communication isn't done well when you are separated a great distance,” said Kuryla.

Also in the new guidance is the implementation of a mandatory weekly testing or vaccination policy. This is something that was already implemented by Onondaga County and by many individual school districts as well.

In Lafayette’s school district, which houses one of the Onondaga Nation’s schools, all staff in that specific school are required to show proof of vaccination with no option for weekly testing. Their superintendent, Jeremy Belfield, said that hasn’t been a problem whatsoever.

“We've had great compliance from our staff members with that so all staff currently reporting to the Onondaga Nation school as their work assignment,” said Belfield. “As far as we're aware, they are fully vaccinated.”

While that’s the only school with a vaccine-only mandate, many districts, like Kuryla’s, are encouraging all students and staff to get vaccinated if they can.

“The messaging of vaccinating or mandatory testing has been welcomed,” said Kuryla. “Vaccines are very clearly the way to move our society through the pandemic.”

While there is certainly worry by teachers, parents, and students about starting the school year with the delta variant so prevalent in the region, Kuryla said all they can do is try their best to keep their students safe and keep them learning.

“The ability to assure safety to our community and to our parent population, while at the same time provide a strong instructional program is paramount,” he said.