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BOCES to stay closed

JOHNSTOWN — Hamilton Fulton Montgomery BOCES District Superintendent David Ziskin on Wednesday updated the Board of Education on the district’s ongoing work to support students and families amid the temporary closure of all school districts in the region to limit the possible spread of the coronavirus.

HFM BOCES on March 15 announced the closure of all component school districts in the region from March 16 through March 31 following consultation between district superintendents and local health officials. On March 16 Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order directing all school districts in the state to close for at least a two week period ending on April 1 with the state to reassess whether to extend the closures and continue to suspend 180 day instructional requirements for school districts.

The school will remain close at least through April 15, per Cuomo’s directive Saturday.

HFM BOCES and component school districts in announcing the temporary closures committed to developing resources for parent-guided and self-guided learning for students. The executive order from the governor required school district to develop plans for alternative instructional opportunities and the distribution of meals to students for submission to the state Department of Education.

The executive order additionally required school districts to develop and submit to the state plans to provide child care to essential workers who continue to work outside of their homes amid restrictions meant to contain the coronavirus. Plans are to emphasize serving the children of healthcare professionals and first responders.

Ziskin briefed the Board of Education on plans HFM BOCES and component school districts have worked to develop and implement during a remote meeting conducted by conference call on Wednesday.

“As you can imagine our time has been consumed by this pandemic that we’re now faced with,” said Ziskin.

Ziskin reported he has been participating in daily conference calls with BOCES district superintendents throughout the state followed by daily conference calls with superintendents of component school districts in the region to keep state and local leaders informed while sharing resources and ideas.

According to Ziskin, school superintendents have been working collaboratively while developing remote instruction plans for students in their individual districts.

“There’s been some borrowing and diffusion among different schools in the region and I think all have arrived at a plan where there at least are some learning activities occurring for all students in the region,” said Ziskin. “I’m very proud and impressed with the work that’s occurred in our region.”

HFM BOCES on March 20 released online resources for self-guided and parent-guided at-home learning activities for individual programs on the district website. BOCES program instructors are also available to provide students and parents support and for some programs have provided students with additional materials or remote instruction opportunities online.

Ziskin noted that school districts throughout the region have begun distributing free breakfasts and lunches to their students since schools where these meals are typically provided to students in need closed.

“The schools in our region have done a fantastic job of delivering food, breakfasts and lunches, to our students on a daily basis and many are leveraging their transportation department and aids to support the schools in delivery of the meals that are prepared by their food service agencies,” said Ziskin. “It’s certainly something that we should be proud of and continue to do.”

HFM BOCES has also been working to develop plans as mandated by the governor to provide child care to serve essential workers if existing providers are unable to accommodate the children of these individuals amidst extended school closures.

“If providers in the region can’t absorb the new demands from essential workers, we’ve been charged with providing it. We’ve been working with [Capital District Child Care Council] to identify slots or spaces at existing providers, but it does fall short of what our need is,” said Ziskin.

Currently Ziskin said HFM BOCES has received 99 requests for child care services and has identified 26 available spaces through existing providers. But he said the majority of the available spaces are intended for children under the age of four rather than school age children.

“So, the real issue is connecting parents of school age children with appropriate resources for those essential healthcare and public safety workers,” said Ziskin. “It may lead to the need to open up some of the schools in the region essentially for daycare at no more than an eight to one ratio of students to adults.”

Ziskin said HFM BOCES will continue working to develop plans to provide the service, noting schools have not yet been identified that may serve as child care sites and will likely be selected based on their proximity to parents in need of support. Multiple schools may be utilized to allow adequate space for social distancing to limit possible transmission of the coronavirus.

“We have kicked around the idea of opening our facility, but when the need is upwards of 60 or 70 students I don’t think we can do it one place and still operate within the spirit of the guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus,” said Ziskin.

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