Rome district intends to maintain hybrid format

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The Rome school district will continue in a hybrid educational format combining in-person and remote instruction for the rest of the 2020-21 school year, Superintendent Peter C. Blake said in a video message Friday afternoon on the district website.

The district has no intent on shifting to fully remote instruction for the rest of the school year which is through June “unless we are deemed to be an Orange or Red zone by the governor’s micro-cluster strategies” regarding COVID-19, Blake said.

There has been some concern by local officials that the Mohawk Valley area, or portions of it, including Rome, Utica and Camden, could be designated by the state as Yellow zone because of the percentage of positive test results.

According to the state’s coronavirus guidance: “The NYSDOH (New York State Department of Health) has determined that schools open to in-person instruction in yellow zones are required to test 20% of in-person students, teachers and staff, at least once a week starting Friday, Oct. 16, for as long as the school remains in a designated yellow zone.”

The school district launched the 2020-21 academic year in mid-September on an all-remote basis for general education due to considerations relating to COVID-19. But since Oct. 26 it has been operating in a hybrid format.

During the six weeks of all-remote instruction, the social, emotional and mental well-being of students and some staff members was “not great,” said Blake, noting a lot of stress placed on people including families, students and staff. The district has seen significant decreases in such situations “as we have welcomed students back into the classrooms,” including benefits for students as well as staff, he added.

There will be challenges, said Blake, noting the hybrid format also can cause stress. But he expressed confidence the district’s staff will “continue to persevere and do whatever we have to to make sure the children of Rome receive an education of in-person variety however we can make that happen for the coming months.”

School transmission of the virus has been “not what we thought it might be at one point in time,” said Blake. He referred to about 15 confirmed COVID-19 cases from among 6,000 Rome district students and staff. Instead, the vast majority of concerns have involved related quarantine requirements and staff shortages, he added. The district has had schools periodically shifting to all-remote
instruction at various times since Oct. 26 due to COVID-19 factors, including Rome Free Academy which will be all-remote through Tuesday next week.

“I do expect that we will see some ebb and flow with the virus in Rome,” Blake observed. “There will be probably be some times where we have some closures due to the virus, and there will be times in March, April and May that we might have closures due to the virus. This is not going away anytime soon....”

Blake further said he understands the decision to remain in a hybrid format “could be polarizing and not everybody will like it. However, our mission is to take care of our students in this school district. Our students need us, our students need our schools.”

Blake also observed there have been many recent conversations about the situation involving the district’s administration, as well as Board of Education and community members sharing their thoughts and feelings.

Board members expressed varying opinions during a special meeting Wednesday night that addressed considerations regarding how to proceed during the pandemic. Blake said during the meeting that the district was weighing a consistency issue of whether to continue periodically shutting down schools for a few days. He told the board that many teachers feel all-remote instruction can be delivered with more consistency than the hybrid format, but he said teachers also cited significant social, emotional and mental health benefits for students from being in school.

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