schools virusalert
School is closed, but some school employees are still working to provide essential services, especially preparing and delivering food and materials to students at their homes. Pettograsso told the Board of Education at an online school board meeting Monday that the plan is to keep students home until April 13th, but noted that date, along with many other things, might change depending on the progress of COVID-19 and Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's directives to school districts.

"Two areas that we really need to give a ton of gratitude towards is our food service and our transportation department cause they are here for the long haul because we are going to be feeding and transporting food and materials to students as long as we need to," Pettograsso said. "We are considered a government agency so we are exempt for many of them. So that's why we're able to have employees still come in to make sure that we have some of our essential operations occurring."

Pettograsso said that the closing due to the coronavirus may not impact the last day of school, even though New York normally requires 180 days of instruction (between 900 and 990 hours) for school districts. She said the District could meet the 180 day requirement if it is allowed to reopen classrooms on April 1. But she said that does not look like it will be allowed.

"I believe that that the 180 days has been waived no matter what happens. So we may still be able to be out to April 13th and I would likely still keep that because we do want to have that vacation time even though everybody's plans might be canceled," she said. "We want to keep that time. I don't want to change that if I don't have to."

Pettograsso said she is communicating with families weekly to update them on changing policies and news. She said that many teachers are furthering their professional development from home: attending webinars, learning how to use various platforms to meet the needs of students. The District is also providing special education services as best they can under the circumstances.

Pettograsso said the district is monitoring seniors in particular to make sure they complete the work necessary to graduate. She said district educators are monitoring to make sure they don't succumb to 'senioritus', letting crucial work slide, which might be more of a temptation while physical classrooms are closed. Pettograsso also said she is in contact with BOCES to make sure that students who have been taking classes there are covered. While instruction is now on the Internet she said that grading is off limits for most classes.

"We attended a meeting with the Commissioner of Education and District Superintendent of BOCES with the leadership team and other superintendents and she was very clear that this is not a time for grading," she said. "It's not a time that we're evaluating and holding every student accountable for the same standard. That's just not equitable for us to do that. So that information will be coming out this week for families and to know that that's not what's planned. AP classes are very different because they're different structure so that communication is going out as well."

She said that some parents have asked for less school work, while others have asked for more. She said that for now the district is sticking to the plan it has in place. State testing for grades 3-8 has been suspended for the year.

"Regents is different because it's not like a state assessment that is used just to find information," she explained. "Regents is connected to the commodity of a high school diploma. So they have not made any decisions yet around the Regents exams. I'm sure that will be connected to how long we're actually out of session."

Food and materials delivery is a crucial service schools districts across the county are providing. A team of people are picking up and delivering materials, including about 500 devices students need for instruction at home so they can continue their studies online.

"We're working on that happening, or trying to connect with students if they don't have hotspots," she explained. "And we're also working with a lot of families that just simply don't want this amount of technology. So there are a lot of different areas to work on. We are working on making sure they have the same access to the curriculum through paper, literature, and other methods."

Business Administrator kate heath added her appreciation for district teachers and staff who are not required to work but want to help.

"I want to give a lot of kudos to all our support staff," heath said. "They have been so amazing and so flexible and so willing to do whatever they need to do. We've had a lot of people who are home who don't have to report, who are calling to ask 'how can we help, what can we do?' So the support we've gotten within our community is pretty amazing."

Pettograsso said that while she is grateful for people wanting to donate food to the schools to help out, the district is not permitted to accept food donations. She said that donations to the Lansing Food Pantry would be a better alternative.

"We really can't accept food and deliver it like that, especially with our limited resources and trying to get out close to 200 meals a day," she said. "From the conversation I had the Lansing Food Pantry, they do have food and they prefer funding. Their money goes a lot farther than us purchasing a product. So if people can make financial donations to the Lansing food pantry, that would be ideal."

She noted that the Childcare Development Council has advised there is a need for baby formula and diapers, and said the district can deliver items like those.

She also said that the District's pandemic plan is strong, but under constant evaluation to remain flexible in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pettograsso said administrative offices are still open, but with greatly reduced hours. She explained this is possible because the Governor has deemed school districts 'government agencies', which means they may remain open in a limited form to provide essential services.

"Our office hours are nine to noon, Monday through Thursday with Fridays closed, which will keep the buildings closed from Friday, Saturday, Sunday to make sure our buildings are without any people and have some space. We are practicing all the protocols as designed by the CDC and Tompkins County Health Department. The Leadership Team, Kate and I are, are coming together either in person or by Google Meet to listen to all the updates from our Governor. "