District prepares for more in-person instruction

Fayetteville-Manlius School District officials are planning to welcome more students back into buildings next month.

During the March 22 Fayetteville-Manlius Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Craig J. Tice recommended the district increase in-person instruction from two days per week to five days per week for K-4 students, and four days per week for the middle and high school levels. 

The expanded in-person schedule is set to begin Monday, April 19, for K-12 students, which is the beginning of the fourth marking period. 

Students in grades 5-12 who are participating in hybrid instruction will physically attend school on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; asynchronous remote instruction, staff office hours and professional development for teachers will be held on Wednesdays. 

Students in grades K-4 will attend school Monday through Friday.

For those families who prefer for their children to not attend school in-person because of COVID-19 health concerns, the district will continue to offer through the end of the 2020-21 school year a fully remote instructional model.

Questionnaire Results

F-M families recently completed an online questionnaire to indicate which learning model they want their student(s) to follow for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. A separate questionnaire was sent to staff members.

Even though not all families completed the questionnaire, the data played a pivotal role in determining the district’s plan for offering more in-person instruction, Tice said. 

The results of the questionnaire representing approximately 2,080 F-M families and their 3,359 children include the following:

Grades K-4 (772 responses)

  • Return to five days of in-person instruction – 46.6%
  • Begin with four days of in-person instruction and transition to five days – 22.4%
  • Expand to four days of in-person instruction – 31%

Grades 5-8 (639 responses)

  • Return to five days of in-person learning – 40%
  • Begin with four days of in-person instruction and transition to five days- 20.7%
  • Expand to four days of in-person instruction – 39.3%

Grades 9-12 (669 responses)

  • Return to five days of in-person learning – 21.1%
  • Begin with four days of in-person instruction and transition to five days – 26.3%
  • Expand to four days of in-person instruction – 52.6%

Staff Results (540 responses)

  • Return to five days of in-person learning – 13.9%
  • Begin with four days of in-person instruction and transition to five days – 14.4%
  • Expand to four days of in-person instruction – 71.7%

Tice said the district plans to offer five-days of in-person instruction at the elementary level and four-days of in-person instruction at the secondary-level because the questionnaire results indicated that almost half of the responding F-M families preferred that particular model (46.6% desired five days at grades K-4 and 46.1% indicated a preference for four days in grades 5-12).

The grades K-4 five-day model will afford the district’s younger learners with more school-affiliated opportunities by offering an additional instructional day whereas the grades 5-12 four-day model will allow the district to continue providing extra-help after school.

“We can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach,” he said. “Our decision-making strategy this past fall was to provide students with equitable in-person instruction time based on the surveys that were administered over the summer.  Since that time, secondary students can now participate in some extracurricular clubs, activities and interscholastic athletics so we want to make sure that access to opportunities are balanced and fair across all grade levels.” 

According to questionnaire results, F-M will have 434 students (10.8%) participating in the district’s fully-remote instruction option for the fourth marking period. This represents a decrease from the school year’s average, which has hovered around 20%.  Of the 434 students, just 103 are elementary (K-4) students spread among the different grade levels across all three elementary school buildings.

Tice acknowledged staff workload concerns, especially at the K-4 level where teachers could be potentially balancing the daily needs of in-person and remote students while managing COVID-19 health and safety measures in the classroom. He is recommending the district provide additional instructional support at the elementary level to help alleviate some of the concerns.

“We don’t want everything falling on the shoulders of classroom teachers,” he said. 

At the March 22 board meeting, Tice said the additional classroom support could be implemented in a couple different ways. At the elementary level, the fully-remote model will be restructured so that there is a designated remote learning teacher for each grade-level.  Elementary principals are currently communicating the details of this new format with parents and guardians.

Start Date Strategy

During the board meeting, Tice said the expanded schedule’s April 19 start date was chosen for a multitude of reasons.  First, it marks the start of the fourth marking period.  Second, it provides a two-week “quarantine period” for any students or staff members who may be traveling during the district’s spring recess. Third, it provides time for the hiring of additional staff, including but not limited to, new remote-only teachers who will work with the elementary cohort C children.  

“We heard from a number of families after Thanksgiving break, the December vacation period, and the February mid-winter recess that school officials should be mindful of the potential for a post-holiday surge in the virus,” Tice said. “We have tried to take that into consideration as well.”

Social Distancing Guidelines

During a March 22 press conference, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said the county plans to adopt the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s revised social distancing guidelines for schools, which state three feet of distance among students is sufficient in the classroom so long as masks and other mitigation steps are taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

McMahon said schools will not be required to use partitions, barriers or sneeze guards if students can be spaced three feet or more from one another in classrooms. 

Collapsible desk partitions will be utilized at the district’s elementary level so that students can safely remove their face coverings to consume snacks, breakfast and lunch within their individual classrooms. Partitions will be used in the cafeterias at the secondary levels during lunch periods to ensure the same safety protocols.

The county also recently eased social distancing guidelines to six feet for physical education and made recommendations regarding school district transportation protocols.  The county acknowledged the differing opinions on vocal music and band classes with the CDC recommending six feet and the state Department of Health recommending 12 feet. For orchestra, the district is implementing at least three feet of social distancing similar to the guidelines being used within the classroom environment.

Families who have concerns about partitions no longer being used in classrooms should contact their student’s building principal if they wish to transfer their children to the remote-only cohort.