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RCSD planning to reopen schools in early 2021, but timeline is fluid


In the face of confirmed cases of coronavirus skyrocketing in Monroe County, the superintendent of the Rochester City School District on Thursday laid out a plan to reopen schools in early 2021 for students, all of whom have been attending classes remotely this academic year.

Students would have the option to attend school in person a few days a week and continue remotely on the other days. The reopening would start with elementary school students, and middle and high school students would be phased in later. The plan is subject to change due to the pandemic.

Lesli Myers-Small, the superintendent, said that the hybrid plan could begin as soon as February, but she cautioned that the timeframe is fluid.

“If we are saying that our core belief is that we put students first then that’s what we need to do sometimes, above adult needs, and I don’t mean to be pejorative,” said Myers-Small. “Our students have told us very definitively that ‘we want to go back to school’ and I feel the very same way.”

The Board of Education was generally supportive of the idea and passed a measure to pursue the plan 4-2, with Commissioner Beatriz Lebron absent.

Commissioner Ricardo Adams said he is concerned about rising COVID-19 cases but his daughters, along with other district students that he knows, want to return to in-person instruction. He said their opinions outweighed his concerns.

“I’m going to back you, Dr. Myers. I’m going to back you,” Adams said.
Commissioner Willa Powell and Board Vice President Cynthia Elliott were skeptical of the plan and voted against it. Elliott was very emotional during her remarks saying it's better to be safe than sorry.

“I don’t want our children to go back to school under any circumstance until we have moved through this pandemic,” Elliott said. “I just don’t want to have to bury anyone.”

She said the plan could put families in the predominately African-American district in harm's way.

“There are times when parents have to say no. And this is one of those times,” continued Elliott.

Myers-Small said she intends to send out surveys to families to gauge their interest in returning to school buildings during the pandemic. Those choices will greatly affect the cost of reopening buildings. The district is expecting a $76 million budget deficit in the next school year.

Myers-Small also announced that the district is on track to welcome special needs students back to the buildings. About 350, roughly 45 percent of those students, opted to switch to a hybrid plan. They’re expected back on January 4.

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News, a media partner of CITY.