© 2022 WRVO Public Media
Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Regional News

Syracuse city schools welcome back students, with the pandemic on everyone's mind

Ellen Abbott
Syracuse City Schools Superintendent Jaime Alicea speaks to students at Clary Middle school

It’s back-to-school week across central and northern New York. The region’s biggest district, the Syracuse City School District, welcomed students back Wednesday with thoughts of dealing with the pandemic front and center.

There’s new technology on the walls of school buildings in Syracuse this year. Sensors that tell if someone has a fever that could indicate they have COVID-19.

“Every kid, every adult is going to have their temperature taken,” said superintendent Jaime Alicea.

Along with that, the district has upgraded air filtration systems to the highest level possible, scrubbed and cleaned floors and walls, and replaced old carpet in many classrooms with new tiles. Alicea said the staff is also getting the message to families about the need for kids to mask up, wash hands and stay socially distant.

Ellen Abbott
Syracuse City School District Superintendent Jaime Alicea demonstrates a touchless thermometer outside a classroom at Clary Middle School

Because of the recent surge of the COVID-19 cases because of the delta variant, Alicea said the district will keep close tabs on any positive COVID tests coming from school and staff, and won’t hesitate to make changes on the fly.

"What we’ll be doing is monitoring every single building. Every single case in the district. And we have a plan. If there’s a time we have to move to remote instruction, we’ll do that,” Alicea said.

Alicea stressed the importance though of getting kids back in the classroom. And teachers and staff are prepared to help any students who fell behind during the pandemic.

"It’s not going to be next year that all the kids are on grade level. But we need to continue to monitor the kids where they are and provide the intensive support they need to be successful,” he said.

At this point, only about 60 students districtwide are opting out of in-person classes in the city district, due to health issues.

One high-profile resident joined Alicea welcoming kids back to Clary Middle School Wednesday. Mayor Ben Walsh wished kids a good first day of school after dropping off his own daughter to start the sixth grade.

“I’m a parent of two Syracuse School District students,” Walsh said. “I’m nervous. My wife is nervous. We’re all going through this together. We’re learning as we go. We’re trying to make sure we’re doing everything possible to keep our kids safe. But we know our kids are best when they're in school."