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Spring break is to be used for learning

FULTON COUNTY — In the hours after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Friday that schools across the state would remain closed until at least April 15 amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the governor’s office released the executive order with the directive containing language requiring school districts to use any remaining school vacation or snow days while continuing to provide remote instructions and meals to students. At local schools, this means canceling spring breaks that were scheduled for April 10 through 17.

Gloversville Enlarged School District Superintendent David Halloran on Tuesday issued a letter to students and parents notifying families that remote instruction would continue over the planned spring break, a reversal from guidance the district previously issued stating that instruction would be suspended over the planned recess.

“The governor’s order dictates that schools are required to provide continuity of instruction, meals for students and childcare resources for essential workers every weekday, including days originally part of the previously scheduled spring break,” the letter states. “We know that the information in this executive order and the situation, in general, continues to raise questions and concerns. I apologize for the mixed messages, but the governor’s order must be adhered to. We do not have a choice.”

Halloran on Wednesday explained that he issued a memo to students and families following the announcement regarding the extension of school closures before the official executive order was released. The initial memo stated that remote instruction would be suspended over the scheduled spring break, but upon reading the executive order Halloran said it appeared that districts were being called upon to provide continuous instruction on all weekdays amid school closures.

The school district sought clarification regarding the matter in coordination with Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES and component school districts throughout the region and confirmed that schools were indeed required to cancel scheduled vacation days while continuing to provide remote instruction and meal distribution for students.

“I can only speculate,” said Halloran of the new language contained in the most recent executive order. “But I have got to believe it’s to keep kids on task during the worst of this crisis and to keep them engaged with the people in their lives, their educators.”

Over what would have been the spring break period, Halloran said the district will continue plans to provide more direct instruction covering new topics and materials, a shift teachers across all grade levels were beginning following the first few weeks of remote instruction.

“It will be a continuation of what they’ve been doing. I think one of the things you’ll see across the state is a transition to explicit instruction and away from review with new course material being introduced remotely. How that looks with assessment I don’t know yet,” said Halloran. “Right now we’re not grading work, we’re focusing on engaging students.”

For students and families who were looking forward to a break from the new home learning landscape, Halloran was sympathetic while encourage everyone to try to remain patient.

“Every situation is different, but my heart goes out to those who are struggling with a multitude of challenges that this situation has presented each and every one of us,” said Halloran. “I certainly understand the stress of the situation, I just ask students and their families to stay positive and stay focused. In the grand scheme of things asking students to work through spring break pales in comparison to what we’re asking of our emergency workers, our doctors and nurses.”

Halloran went on to encourage any students or parents struggling with schoolwork to reach out to their teachers and building administrators for guidance and support.

“All of these days since the closure of school have been workdays for teachers,” said Halloran. “Our staff has been great, they understand this is an unprecedented crisis.”

“We’ll get through this,” he added, encouraging students and families to practice social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus while making time for leisure activities such as spending time outdoors. “Let’s all do our part to flatten the curve.”

At the Greater Johnstown School District Interim Superintendent Karen Geelan said students and families can expect a similar course of action over the previously scheduled spring break period, with teachers continuing to provide online learning that began on Wednesday.

“The first round we were doing reinforcement skills and skill enhancement. Phase two is true instruction starting today,” Geelan said Wednesday.

Geelan said the evolving situation related to the coronavirus outbreak has been unpredictable and it was understandable why the second executive order surrounding school closures issued by Cuomo contained new language directing school districts to continue delivery of instruction and meals to students while expending scheduled vacation or unused snow days.

“We’re here to support kids,” said Geelan. “We have been talking to our administrators and curriculum leaders about the need for balance whether we were intended to be on spring break or not, instruction is not the same as if we were all in a classroom and sitting face-to-face. It’s inherently more difficult for everybody when we’re all separated in our homes.”

“And our world is different today than we had anticipated it to be,” she added. “The best thing we can do is to do our best to recognize and be aware of the challenges of how difficult it is for families and employees alike and for all of us in our community to be here to take care of each other as best we can.”

In the face of these challenges, Geelan expressed pride in the efforts of district teachers and faculty members who she said have been working to maintain personal connections with students and families at all grade levels through online platforms like Google Classroom.

“They’re not in the same classroom, but at least they are able to see each other and are able to work through new and challenging material,” said Geelan. “We’ve come a long way in a little bit of time and it’s due to the dedication of our staff to make it happen. They really do care.”

For students and families without access to technology or the internet, Geelan said physical copies of instructional materials are available for students to complete at home. She went on to encourage any students or families in need of guidance or support to visit the district website for resources or contact their teachers or building administrators.

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