The first day of school is rapidly approaching for students enrolled in local schools. Educators at all six of the Catholic high schools within the Diocese of Rochester worked all summer long to put plans in place for the reopening of their schools in September, nearly six months after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the schools to transition to distance learning.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed all schools in the state to develop these plans for reopening, and in July the state’s Department of Education released a pair of guidelines detailing specific actions public and private schools must take in order to reopen. Schools were required to submit these plans to New York’s education and health departments by July 31, and on Aug. 7 Cuomo announced schools throughout the state would be permitted to reopen, provided COVID-19 infection rates stay low.
The local Catholic high schools’ plans share a focus on the health and safety of the schools’ students and staff, although the specific details of these plans vary from school to school. Details laid forth in the plans cover everything from which days students will physically report to their school buildings to how many minutes they will have in between classes and how social distance will be maintained between students.
Bishop Kearney High School in Irondequoit, Aquinas Institute in Rochester, McQuaid Jesuit High School in Brighton and Tyburn Academy of Mary Immaculate in Auburn are planning to welcome students back to their buildings for in-person instruction five days a week. Our Lady of Mercy School for Young Women in Brighton and Notre Dame High School in Elmira will utilize a hybrid model developed by school leaders over the summer. Notre Dame students will attend classes inside the school building four days a week and take online classes one day a week. Each Mercy student, meanwhile, will receive in-person instruction at the school twice a week and take part in distance learning twice a week. The fifth day will be reserved for culture-building activities, according to Martin Kilbridge, principal.
Although all six of these school buildings currently plan to open for face-to-face instruction in September, students at each school do have the option to begin the year via distance learning if they do not feel comfortable physically returning to school. Those students who do return to campus will find an increased utilization of online platforms such as Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams and Zoom.
Some of this technology, such as cameras and microphones set up inside classrooms at Mercy and Aquinas, will allow teachers to simultaneously instruct students in their classrooms as well as those at home. Some of the technology will enable a near-seamless transition to distance learning should a rising COVID-19 infection rate force the closure of schools, as it did last spring.
Other key components of the schools’ reopening plans include:
Most of the plans note that masks — washable in some cases and disposable in others — will be provided to faculty, staff, students or visitors who do not have their own masks. Aquinas, for instance, will provide each student with one reusable mask featuring one of six Aquinas-themed designs, and students may purchase additional masks for $10 apiece.
Temperature checks and health questionnaires
These will become part of the daily routine for students and staff alike. Some of the schools have purchased technology that will allow the contact-free taking of individuals’ temperatures as they enter school buildings, and others have developed health questionnaires for students and staff to complete before they leave for school each morning. At McQuaid, this survey will be called a Daily Pass questionnaire.
“This Daily Pass, accessible on students’ school-issued iPads and on smartphones, will include reporting on a temperature check, COVID-19 symptoms, and any known contact with individuals suspected or confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19,” according to McQuaid’s reopening plan. “Submission of the Daily Pass will trigger one of three responses: green (cleared to come to school), yellow (cleared to come to school, but enhanced monitoring necessary), or red (do not come to school). Students will be required to show their color-code response with date stamp to a door monitor at entry, where they may be selected for a random temperature check.”
Each of the six Catholic high schools requires students to adhere to a uniform policy when attending classes at their school. Policies for those learning at home vary, however. Mercy students are required to wear a uniform top whenever they are visible on camera, for example, while Aquinas students participating from home are not required to wear uniforms. They are not allowed to wear pajamas, however.
Public school districts are required to provide transportation to students who live within their districts, even if they attend nonpublic schools. The Catholic high schools typically work closely with the public districts in which their students live, and this year is no exception, according to Theodore Mancini, principal at Aquinas.
“This year with COVID, we have had more dialogue than in the past,” Mancini said, noting that Aquinas and its neighboring public schools typically follow similar schedules in terms of the opening of school and timing of school breaks. “We always ask our families to confirm with their district of residence to be sure that the district is providing transportation when we are in session at Aquinas. As far as I am aware, this year, all of our districts will be transporting to Aquinas five days a week and all beginning on or close to our first day of Sept. 8.”