WINDSOR TERRACE — Dr. Thomas Chadzutko, the Superintendent of Schools for the Brooklyn Diocese, has announced plans for a September reopening of Catholic academies and parish schools, contingent upon a decision by Governor Andrew Cuomo on the reopening of New York public schools.
Schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn have been closed since April 20 as teachers, students, and parents made the transition to online, remote learning for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year.
Governor Cuomo’s announcement regarding schools is expected during the week of August 1.
In anticipation of the announcement, the Office of the Superintendent has assembled a school reopening task force, which has been preparing a comprehensive plan for a successful and safe opening of diocesan school buildings in the fall, according to Chadzutko.
“The New York State Education Department just recently shared the framework for school reopening plans with formal guidance,” he wrote in a July 14 statement. “This framework will be disseminated later this week and will serve as a roadmap, providing schools with guidelines, expectations, and mandates, to safely open our schools this fall.”
Joseph Esposito, the former commissioner of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and the retired chief of department in the NYPD, was appointed by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio to lead the task force that worked to safely reopen churches in the Brooklyn Diocese.
Now, Esposito’s team is collaborating with school administrators to create a safe plan for the reopening of schools. The Superintendent’s Re-Opening Task Force has been reviewing plans from around the world and across the U.S., collaborating with principals, pastors, and academy boards to envision a plan that will be “safe and strong in academics and is Christ-centered.”
“I think it is good for them mentally to get back into a class with their fellow students,” Esposito told Currents News. “A lot of these kids have been locked-in for the last few months and I think we want to get back to normal as soon as possible.”
Schools in the diocese are in a unique position to reopen as they “don’t have an overcrowding problem for the most part, where the public schools do,” Esposito explained.
While public schools face larger numbers that might require split sessions — where students would be in school buildings a few days a week — some schools in the Brooklyn Diocese are able to consider a five-day school week.
“Our ultimate goal really is to have a hundred percent reopening,” Chadzutko told Currents News. “I think one of the things that for our parents and our children, we need to get them back into a normal routine of five days a week to be in the school building.”
The Superintendent’s Re-Opening Task Force’s preliminary plan includes an in-school model that will follow social distancing protocols.
Schools in the diocese also have auditoriums, gyms, and other areas that can be used to socially distance throughout the school day.
Some school buildings in the diocese will not be able to accommodate all students and maintain social distancing, forcing them to move toward alternative scheduling and a combination of in-person and remote learning. In order to be prepared for a possible hybrid learning model.
“We would prepare the teachers with professional development, starting as early as we can,” Chadzutko said.
The Superintendent’s Re-Opening Task Force also has an elementary school principal’s advisory committee which, starting next week, will begin town hall-style meetings, to give principals “an opportunity to ask questions, to see what resources do we need,” he added.
Buildings will have enhanced cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing protocols, as well as student and faculty wellness checks and symptom screening.
Esposito notes that, as his team did with the reopening of churches, the Superintendent’s Re-Opening Task Force will also be speaking to medical personnel to determine best practices in the reopening of schools.
While these general protocols are being put in place, each individual school will still have to submit their own reopening plan to the Brooklyn Diocese, Esposito said. Once reviewed, these plans will be sent to the Governor’s Office, “who in turn, has the last say on how and when we can open,” he added.
Plans for reopening of schools are expected to be submitted by the end of July.
“We are going to do everything we can to get those kids the proper education they deserve both in the secular world and in the spiritual world,” Esposito said. “We’ll do it as efficiently and as cautiously as possible. We’ll take every aspect of this virus, and adapt the classrooms and the way we’re going to teach accordingly.”
While he says it’s up to parents if they want their children to return to school, Esposito wants them “to feel very confident that we’re going to do everything we can to keep their children safe.”
As part of these plans, the Superintendent’s Re-Opening Task Force has also stressed the need for public school districts to provide a nurse and medical professional to diocesan schools and provide transportation for eligible students. At this time, school administrators are uncertain if public school districts will be able to fulfill these requirements.
“We have and will continue to advocate for the many resources our students are entitled to under State and City law, as well as through the local school districts,” Chadzutko said.
The diocese is also awaiting further information from the New York State Department of Health and the Board of Regents regarding reopening guidelines.
“Obviously we want to make sure that we follow the New York state education guidance, and framework that they shared with us for reopening,” Chadzutko added.