Following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Aug. 7 authorization of the statewide reopening of schools, Catholic schools in the Diocese of Rochester are gearing up for a return to full-time classroom learning in a few weeks.
All 16 diocesan elementary schools are expected to open on time in early September, according to James Tauzel, diocesan Catholic schools superintendent. Their reopening will adhere to plans the diocese submitted for state approval in late July.
“This is good news,” Tauzel said of the governor’s announcement. “It gives us a runway to get started toward where we want to be in September.”
Next month will mark a return to classrooms for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic closed schools across the state in mid-March, forcing a move to online learning for the rest of the school year. Cuomo announced July 13 that schools could move toward reopening if, by Aug. 7, their regions maintained 14-day average COVID-19 infection rates of less than 5 percent. According to state statistics, infection rates have generally remained near 1 percent for all New York regions since mid-June.
Based on enrollment projections and ample building capacities, every diocesan school will offer in-person learning five days per week, Tauzel said. Many public-school districts, meanwhile, are eyeing hybrid plans — combining in-school instruction on a variety of split schedules with with virtual learning — in order to achieve the social distancing required to avoid virus transmission.
Tauzel added that each diocesan school will comply with state edicts on providing an option for full-time online learning for students who don’t wish to attend school in person, and with requirements for proper COVID-19 testing protocols and contact tracing. The schools also will require face coverings for students and staff, social distancing, minimal student movement, morning temperature screenings, frequent hand cleaning with soap and sanitizer, and thorough cleaning of buildings.
Tauzel said his department along with the school personnel will busy themselves over the next few weeks with such details as coordinating bus transportation with public-school districts, continuing to strengthen health and safety measures, and engaging in discussions with parents and teachers regarding each school’s plan.
Acknowledging that unknowns are bound to surface because schools aren’t accustomed to operating during a pandemic, Tauzel said “we’re going to be as ready as we can be.” He commended the planning teams at schools for devising their plans over a short period of time in order to make reopening possible.
“They gave of their time, talent and expertise to make this all happen,” Tauzel said. “It’s nice to see that each school community has done such a great job of outlining the needs of each school building and taking the challenge head-on.”